50 years

“The one thing that would be dishonorable for us is to bring all this attention to the assassination of Dr. King and not have a resurrection of the efforts and the unfinished business dealing with systemic racism, systemic poverty.”  Rev. Dr. William Barber II

Fifty years ago today Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  The anniversary is as important as we choose to make it.

The narrative I absorbed through most of my life was that the Civil Rights movement exposed deep seated racism in the US, inspired millions, won key legislative victories, and set our country on course toward racial equality.  And here we are, almost there, with merely a scattering of personal prejudices yet to be overcome.  That’s a powerful narrative, made all the more compelling because it centers on a hero, Dr. King.

Over the last several years this narrative has been exposed as simply untrue.  It’s not that it has become untrue in the last several years.  It never was true.

People of color have known this.  Many white folks have been helped by important scholarship and movements that have been difficult to ignore.

Michele Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness lifted the veil on how our prison system targets and decimates black communities.  The Black Lives Matter movement demanded that we pay attention to black deaths at the hands of police whose charge is to keep citizens safe.  In our current political climate white supremacy parades in the light.

Part of what we seek to nurture as people of faith is an ever deepening spiritual bond with “the neighbor.”  As difficult as it is to sustain in a culture that veers toward individualism at nearly every turn, an ever expanding sense of the neighbor and the neighborhood connects our well-being to others.  It sounds lovely and lofty in theory.  It is difficult soul work to develop and enact.

Three days after we have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who overcomes to powers of death and violence and offers the same power to those willing to receive it, let’s practice resurrection in how we educate and orient ourselves toward what Rev. William Barber refers to as “the unfinished business (of) dealing with systemic racism.”

If you are looking for another veil-lifting book on par with The New Jim Crow, I recommend either of the following, both published in 2017: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein, and The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, by Mehrsa Baradaran  (If you have the free Hoopla app through the Columbus Metro Library, this audiobook is available there for download).