“The Appalling Silence of the Good People” What would MLK Say?

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States,.   It’s a day designated by the government to honor the work that Martin Luther King Jr. did on behalf of the blacks and racial freedom in the United States.

I think it would be good to take a few minutes and look back and attempt to venture what Martin Luther King Jr. would say about some of the issues that we as a country currently wrestle with.   So, let’s look at four issues:

  • Police Justice
  • Protests
  • The most segregated hour in America
  • The “Hoodie Effect”

Before I jump into those, let me make a disclaimer.   I’m a white guy.   I’ve always been a white guy and I’ll always be a white guy.  

But 40% of my children are not white.    So that would make me what they call a transracial parent.   With that said, I want to extend an open “mic” to any person of color who would like to write a guest post on any of these issues or anything else related to Dr King.   If you’re a white guy, sorry, I’m the only white guy who gets to write on my blog about this.

So what would MLK say about Police Justice today?   In light of Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Cleveland, Chicago and San Bernardino, what would he say?   Here’s what I think he would say:

  • There is a significantly larger percentage of the police force that is not nearly as overtly hostile to the black person, specifically the young black man as there was in his time.   So, progress has been made.
  • Profiling is a necessary part of good policing.   They have to be able to walk into a situation and assess, based on profiles, the more likely problems.  But good profiling requires breaking stereotypes and truly looking at the situation.  Pulling someone over and searching them and their car strictly because they are black or arresting someone who is wearing  Islamic headwear is stereotyping and not profiling.   There is a difference.
  • There are still too many members of our police forces who automatically are more tense and more prone to violence if the person they encounter is black.   Therefore many of the deaths that sparked the riots did not need to happen.

What would Martin Luther King Jr. say about the protests?  While I was obtaining my history degree in college, one of the classes I took spent a good bit of time looking at the protests that have happened over the centuries.   One of the things that struck me is something I’d  like to believe Dr. King would agree with:

“People riot and protest when they feel like they  have no other means to get their voice heard.   When they feel like they have lost hope in the current government.”

So, I believe that Dr. King would say that the riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago and others are a sign that black people have lost confidence in the government’s ability to provide justice and restore hope through peace and opportunity.

The protests are about a lack of hope and a fight to cling to the ability to have hope.

What would Martin Luther King Jr. say about the most segregated hour in America?

What is the most segregated hour in America?   It’s Sunday morning church services.  The number of all black churches and the number of all white churches statistically out number the racially diverse churches in America – way out of proportion to the percentage of people.  

People, if we go to church on Sunday mornings, we worship the same God.   Why can’t we do it together?

The church we attend in Grand Rapids has a big screen in the entryway with announcements and such on it.    One of the things that shows up there every Sunday is the following:

“If during the worship service this morning, there are times when you feel uncomfortable, that’s okay.   Actually that’s intentional.   Because if you feel comfortable the whole time, that means that there is someone else who feels uncomfortable the entire time.”

I believe that MLK would say that until we, as Christians, can worship the same God in the same church on the same Sunday mornings, we will not see adequate progress in easing rational tensions and make racism a thing of the past.

What would MLK say about the Hoodie Effect?   What is the “hoodie effect?”   Let me put it this way……..

Let’s say your son is 16, walks down to the local Speedway (I’m not picking on them) while wearing baggy jeans (not hanging down but baggy) a big Nike sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over his head, headphones on and he’s bopping, rapping, singing or whatever along to the music that’s playing rather loudly.   He comes into Speedway, never looks at anyone, buys a bag of chips and a Mt. Dew and wanders out and down the road back to your house.   Oh, and did I mention that your son is white?

Now let’s say that my son (who is black) does the same thing – wearing the same “get up” and listening to the same music, everything is identical.   What do you think are the odds that he will get looked at and treated the same by everyone in the store?

Slim?   Yeah, me too.

That’s the “Hoodie Effect.”   Put a black young man in a hoodie and too many people view them negatively.

So what would MLK say about the “Hoodie Effect?”

  • I believe he would say we’ve come a long ways because in his day, his black son would not even have been allowed to be in the store.   They would have a sign up that says “Whites only” or something like that.
  • I believe that MLK would say that decades of governmental policies have marginalized the black man to the point that such a higher percentage of them are incarcerated that there is actually a term for it – “The School to Prison Pipeline.”
  • Those policies have not only robbed many black people of hope but have also reinforced previously held beliefs in the white population that encourage and condone the “second glance” type of scrutiny that causes the “Hoodie Effect.”

I’m going to end this with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. himself.  He wrote this as part of his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” book and it speaks eloquently……

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not . . . 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 cannot agree with your methods of direction action.’ . . .Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”   Martin Luther King Jr.

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