A Failure to Act is Compliance: Bearing Witness to Justice

cornel_westAs I said in a previous blog entry, although more thoroughly, just condemning racism and having black friends is not enough when it comes to ending racism, oppressive systemic racism, and injustice; that all is passivity and neutrality! That’s more dangerous than the KKK or Neo-Nazis. In some way, shape, or form, we either fight and advocate for the weakest and minorities, whether they remain minorities or not, or we contribute, unintentionally, to racism and the systemic oppression in our society. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail“:

I must confess that over the last 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 the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er 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; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

What Dr. King called “White moderates” are unintentionally being racist when we prefer order over justice and negative peace, which inherently allows the injustice of racism and division to continue. We aren’t intentionally or purposely being racist, but by virtue of passivity i.e. being, or pretending to be, “color blind,” “I have black friends I’m not racist,” “I voted for Obama,” so on and so forth we are, in fact, being unintentionally racist and contributing to a systemic issue still a festering wound on our society.
As Howard Zinn said, “There’s no neutrality on a moving train.” We may not be racist; least by what we can tell, however, we all have, myself included, racial stereotypes and bias we aren’t aware of, haven’t explored or, due to fear and white fragility, won’t explore, but many of us are indeed passive. We do this when we lump all BLM folks into one violent hate group, when we don’t use our faith and/or values to speak out for the weak, marginalized, and oppressed in our country, when we refuse to recognize the inherent injustice in the police and judicial system and act against it, when we refuse to believe there’s systemic racism still in this country, when we speak out about black-on-black crime and fail to see our own contribution to what causes such violence or ask what causes it or why it exists and when we seek to place all the problems the black community solely on themselves without desiring to help them.

Being a “SJW” (a pejorative meaning “social justice warrior”) isn’t a political thing for me and many others. I’m not asking us all to protest or sign up for a class on racism or join BLM; I’m simply asking that we care and do some sort of advocacy. To not do that is to be passive and contribute to the problem as people who are white and can speak from a position of power and privilege and listen to our black brothers and sisters.

Yes, I we all are absolutely in denial, to some degree, at times, to the seriousness of modern racism and thus passively contribute to it because we have the privilege of living lives free of racism. I don’t have an opinion on racism. I simply have two eyes and two ears and a brain that sees the obvious facts that it’s here; it’s not going anywhere by generational death (meaning each generation gets more and more diverse and less racist) or being passive in fighting it. We, as people of faith (if you are one), and values built on justice, equality, and peace have an obligation to listen to our black brothers and sisters, empathize, and act along side them against the system of oppression and racism!

I don’t care how one acts, but I do 100% believe that if one doesn’t act, myself included, we are Dr. King’s “White moderates” devoted to order over justice and positive peace. His message is as relevant today as it was 50 yrs ago. A failure to act is compliance! It is a granting of moral and ethical permission to racism, which, in turn, only enables its continued growth; it is this unintentional working against justice that hinders progress and justice, which in reality, makes us all less human. Dr. Cornel West said, “To be human is to bear witness to justice. Justice is what love looks in public.” How can we be more human? How can we show justice, which is love, in public with our black brothers and sisters?

I recently wrote this about White moderates, of which I use to be one, and in some ways probably still am as I still have racial stereotypes and bias left to explore and undo as I continue my education as a multiculturally-trained counselor focused on social justice. I believe we have to listen and ask questions and empathize.

Yes, black people have personal responsibility as well, and they’ve never denied that reality; Brother Cornel West as even spoken to this:

My aim is not to provide excuses for black behavior or to absolve blacks of personal responsibility. But when the new black conservatives accent black behavior and responsibility in such a way that the cultural realities of black people are ignored, they are playing a deceptive and dangerous intellectual game with the lives and fortunes of disadvantaged people. We indeed must criticize and condemn immoral acts of black people, but we must do so cognizant of the circumstances into which people are born and under which they live. By overlooking these circumstances, the new black conservatives fall into the trap of blaming black poor people for their predicament. It is imperative to steer a course between the Scylla of environmental determinism and the Charybdis of a blaming-the-victims perspective.”

With all that being said, my fellow white brothers and sisters, what are we doing to help? Are we asking our black brothers and sisters what we can do to help? Are we being moderates and thus passively contributing to injustice? Or doing what we can in the smallest ways to fight for those who are weak and minorities in order to promote a more fair, free, liberated, just, and equal society Dr. King and many others have envisioned?

“None of us alone can save the nation or the world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.” -Dr. Cornel West “Race Matters”

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