As Nikki pointed out in her post earlier today we occasionally get negative comments from folks who would like to put “racism behind us.” Often such admonitions come with commendation for the leaders of the “original” Civil Rights movement (as if that were something that had a definitive starting and ending point in human history). We are told that the work of such leaders (particularly Dr. King) is over, that the goals have been accomplished.
Yet while admiration for Dr. King is well and deserved, he was not the only one who dedicated his life and lifetime to human rights. Many of us white folks know Rosa Parks and Dr. King, but names like Medgar Evers, Ralph Abernathy, and Ida B. Wells are not part of any history curriculum we’ve ever studied, and no one’s going to mention Malcolm X because his rhetoric and ideas at times, frankly, scared us.
One of our best defenses as white folks is to point to leaders of color we admire. To show that we, too, know about the struggle and had we been there, unlike our fathers, we would have walked with those people across that bridge in Selma. But oftentimes, as we attempt to exaggerate our understanding, to presume that we, like the Civil Rights leaders we can name, have overcome racism, we reveal how little we really know about any of it.
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FYI, check out the man in the photo linking arms with the “unidentified nun” (photo Dartmouth University School of Religion):
May all of us be slow to speak and eager to learn.