A change is gonna come

As people have been gathering across the country to protest racial injustice, I have been cogitating. I have been listening. I’ve been reflecting on the cultural changes of my life time, wondering what Martin Luther King, Jr. would say if he could see the world today, and most importantly, deciding that I will not be silent.

I’ve been rereading A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. King said that the racial crisis of the 1950’s was precipitated by two factors – 1) the South’s resistance to school desegregation and 2) the change in the way that black Americans saw themselves. The world was changing. Blacks no longer felt inferior to whites and were no longer willing to accept injustice.

The world is still changing. Yet sometimes it feels like the more things change, the more they stay the same. Privileged groups still resist giving up their privileges. Privileged groups still resist change. Whites still make excuses for being racist.

Privileged groups rarely give up their privileges without strong resistance. But when oppressed people rise up against oppression there is no stopping point short of full freedom. Realism compels us to admit that the struggle will continue until freedom is a reality for all the oppressed peoples of the world.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today’s racial protests were precipitated by the viral video of a police officer’s brutality against an unarmed black man, which was preceded by a few other recent documented instances of racial injustices experienced by blacks. This time, white people get it. We get the anger. We’ve seen irrefutable proof that blacks are treated as if their lives don’t matter. Many of us are realizing it is not enough to not be a racist; we must be actively anti-racist.

Obviously, not all whites understand. When someone says “black lives matter” and whites respond, “all lives matter,” it’s clear that they just don’t get it. Black Lives Matter is a response to centuries of blacks being treated as if their lives are expendable. It is an affirmation of their worth. It is an affirmation that blacks are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

If King could see America today, I hope he would see the change in the way that many whites see blacks. Today, blacks occupy positions of power and influence in government, in police departments, in businesses and in other institutions. White people appreciate the contributions blacks have made to our cultural heritage. White people value the lives of our black friends, coworkers, and family members. They are a part of us.

There’s been times that I thought

I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been a long, long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come

Oh, yes it will

Sam Cooke

There has been much criticism of the protests, especially condemnation of looting and property destruction. The truth is most protesters are peaceful. As I read A Testament of Hope, I find inspiration in Martin Luther King’s rationale for nonviolent resistance.

  1. Nonviolent resistance uses the mind and emotions to persuade the opponent that he is mistaken. Although it is physically non-aggressive, it is spiritually aggressive. It is not a method for cowards.
  2. Nonviolent resistance seeks reconciliation and redemption. It does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win him over with kindness and understanding. Violent resistance results in resentment and bitterness.
  3. Nonviolent resistance is a struggle against the forces of evil and not against the evildoer. It is not a fight against people who have been caught up in the forces of evil. The tension is between justice and injustice, between light and darkness.
  4. Nonviolent resistance accepts suffering without retaliation. It turns the other cheek. Suffering has the power to transform the oppressor.
  5. Nonviolent resistance is powered by agape, a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. It avoids internal violence of the spirit (e.g. hatred and bitterness). Reacting with hate does nothing but increase the amount of hate in the world.
  6. Nonviolent resistance believes that the moral universe is on the side of justice. In the struggle for justice, we have cosmic companionship. Our God is a God of justice and mercy.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yes, sometimes it feels like the more things change, the more they stay the same. The ugly sin of racism still exists. People of privilege still resist change. I still have hope that change is gonna come. I believe in the redeeming power of love. I believe that truth and justice will prevail. God is on our side.

****

Photo by Kiana Bosman on Unsplash

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