You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train or (A Letter To the Moderate White)


To the moderate white man or woman,

It isn’t enough to simply say one is “color blind,” or that one has never said anything racist about another or demeaned anyone for their race and/or ethnicity. It isn’t enough to simply think racism will eventually die out with each successive generation that gets more and more diverse or removed from the ignorance that causes racism.

No, it isn’t enough to do any of that! What we all must do is confront our own white fragility (if we’re white), examine our own prejudices, explore our own bias, and lastly confront systemic racism/oppression that’s clearly engraved in our societal structures of which the penal system, a relic of slavery, is the best example.

What MLK Jr. says here in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is beyond applicable to we as white folks today:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”

He states that it isn’t the clear cut racist whites in the Klan he feared or grieved most, but the common every day white who is just a moderate going along “color blind,” to use what we say today, who ignores the reality of racial injustice and inequality around them who grieves him the most.

We mustn’t be willfully oblivious to what our black brothers and sisters, especially, are saying and experiencing in our country. We mustn’t be afraid to have hard conversations with ourselves and our families and our friends and our neighbors and our church members about racial issues! We mustn’t be afraid to be self-reflective and honest with how we are the moderates MLK Jr. once spoke of long ago and owning that per personal responsibility and proactive action towards justice and equality.

It isn’t enough to do all the things I said above while being silent in the face of injustices that exist. If we ignore them or the reality of the problem or run from it because it makes us as white folks uncomfortable then we are perpetrating injustice just as much as the system is and are just as guilty. Our silence is condoning, our ignorance is permission, our fragility is complacent, our “color blindness” is moral blindness, and our fear is compliance with the racial injustices!

Not being racist or saying racist things or choosing to not see color while not taking part to rectify and resolve racial injustices is a form of morally participating in and approving of those injustices; we can’t do this any longer and pretend to be morally good just because as individuals we don’t say racist things, etc.

We mustn’t be complacent, silent, dismissive, defensive of our egos and white fragility, weak-willed, ignorant, or afraid any longer! The time for action is now and the time for justice is now. Let us be brave, courageous, daring, introspective, civil, peaceful, and non-violent in the pursuit of justice and equality for all.

MLK Jr. said that the arch of the moral universe is long, but it nonetheless bends towards justice; which way are we helping it to bend?

You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”  —Howard Zinn

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