“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.”
-1 Samuel 17:48
The United States of America has not known a time when it did not struggle with the issue of race. Slaves were present with the colonies in Jamestown, Virginia in the 1600’s, almost one hundred years before the Declaration of Independence. In March of 2017, 42% of Americans say they personally worry a “great deal” about race relations in the United States, up seven percentage points from 2016 and a record high in Gallup’s 17-year trend. If racism has been with us for hundreds of years, one might conclude that racism is not going anywhere.
In the famous scriptural story of David and Goliath, the army of the Israelites was overwhelmed. Defeat was a foregone conclusion. The young shepherd boy David, however, knew he was on the right side. Though untrained for war, he was so convinced that he would triumph over his heavily-armed opponent that he “ran quickly” toward mighty Goliath with just five stones and a sling. The first of those stones killed Goliath and everything changed. David would become King.
It is my conviction that those of us who are determined to fight racism in America are also on the right side, but like David, we must confront the issue of race aggressively. Dr. Martin Luther King, in Where Do We Go From Here? (published one year before his death) wrote, “The hard truth is that neither Negro nor white has done enough to expect the dawn of a new day. While much has been done, it has been accomplished by too few and on a scale too limited for the breadth of the goal…Negroes hold only one key to the double lock of peaceful change. The other is in the hands of the white community.”
We cannot get beyond race by ignoring it. My intention is to confront the enemy of racism by teaching both inspirational and uncomfortable truths, exposing falsehood along the way. My life will be spent proactively training others to do the same. We must waste no time challenging the tired and memorized responses so commonly heard from behavior-obsessed Conservatives and government program-obsessed Liberals alike. Those of us who stay awake at night struggling with what Dr. King referred to as the “fierce urgency of now” must redeem the time.
Shamefully, among whites, this issue appears to have a different impact when the instruction is delivered by a white counterpart. For example, before slavery ended, there had been slave revolts and impassioned arguments against slavery from free blacks such as Frederick Douglass. In 1859, however, when Caucasian abolitionist John Brown started a brief rebellion against slavery that cost his life at Harper’s Ferry Armory in Virginia, Frederick Douglass noted, “John Brown began the (Civil) war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic.”
Two decades ago, I was discussing the issue of race with a group of young white Southerners. I asked the question, “Why do so few whites talk about the Civil Rights Movement or participate in civil rights-related events?” One of the young men responded and I have been thinking about his answer for years. He said, “Because blacks are always shoving-it down our throats.” Would this Southerner have held the same negative outlook if his similarly-complected friends and family shared an enthusiasm for the Civil Rights Movement and a passion for protecting the rights of others?
Caucasians have an opportunity to come to terms with a painful, but awe-inspiring history where some of their own white counterparts struggled, bled, and died for social justice. James Baldwin wrote, “…(Whites are) trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.… But…we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it…”
America has had the cloud of slavery, segregation, and racism hanging over its head for centuries. White defensiveness is psychological evidence that there is a festering sore that has not been treated. While it is incumbent upon Caucasians to involve themselves on every logical occasion to redeem this country by “doing our dirty laundry”, ALL Americans must pick up their own stone and slay the giant.
“If we–and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others–do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.”
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)