INTRODUCTION by Rev. Bruce T. Marshall
Here at Davies we have a group called ADORE, acronym for A Dialogue On Race and Ethnicity. ADORE meets once a month for the purpose of bringing together people of different backgrounds, races, ethnic heritages—and having a conversation. A conversation aimed at helping us understand and appreciate each other, as well as consider the deeper currents of race relations in this country and throughout the world. This morning for Martin Luther King Sunday, I have asked participants in the ADORE conversation to reflect upon the state of race relations today, from their own perspectives. It’s over 48 years since the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. How goes the dream today?
I grew up during the civil rights era, watching Martin Luther King, Jr. on TV in the news. I believed at a young age that racism is wrong & I moved to Prince George’s County because I couldn’t see any arguments against moving here that were probably not racially motivated. People gave the same reasons in the 1980’s that they do today – more crime & bad public schools, but the comparable statistics don ‘t bare that out.
As someone born into Unitarian Universalism, I’ve always tried to live by my faith, which includes treating everyone fairly with compassion. Yet I did not actually study anti-racism until starting in the early 1990s. I have been to many workshops & classes & can still learn more. Racism is part of our culture lurks in my subconscious. Activists focus on the institutional problems, and churches are institutions. Each of us who are active here is responsible for changing or maintaining the culture. This congregation is recognized as one of only four UU congregations that are truly multicultural.
I communicate with people in many other UU congregations. Many of them are in denial that not being integrated can be a sign of institutional racism. I’m sure it’s unintentional, but that’s why anti-racism is more important than just not being racist. We need to be intentional to end racism. White people have the privilege of not noticing the problems.
A lot has changed over the years. There are more middle class people of color and more integration. We can do much more: A church friend posted on Facebook about the problems in the penal system and the impact on African American males.
But in this church we are acting on Rev. Dr. King’s dream of “hand-in-hand, black and white together” each Sunday when we sing our benediction.
I grew up in an white family of the Jewish faith, raised in Baltimore and attended integrated schools.
When I was young ,both Jews and blacks were considered minorities and shared a common bond due to shared discrimination. Jews and blacks have long worked together in the civil rights struggle. We, of course, remember the black and Jewish civil rights activists killed in Miss. I remember at that time being told that I was not white but Jewish. I also remember when inter-racial marriage was illegal.
My wife, Cynthia, is black and was raised as a Methodist. We met in the military which became intergrated after the efforts of units like the Tuskeegee Airmen in WWII , served as one of the best places in society where all people had the opportunity to excel based on their abilities.
My wife’s mother Barbara Cox attended the original MLK March on Washington in 1963. Ironically she was fired from her job because she took off to attend the march.
In 1993 ,the 30th anniversary of the MLK speech was celebrated back on the Mall at the Lincoln Memorial. As a federal officer involved with special events, I was involved in the planning and security of the event and worked the event. I had the opportunity to work closely with Rev. Walter Fauntroy, and when my wife and son Eric planned to attend the event; Rev. Fauntroy had a news team come to our house ; meet my family and travel to the event and interview them.
In 1965 civil rights activists marched three times from Selma to Montgomery . During the second march in Selma with Dr. King, three white ministers who had come for the march were attacked and beaten with clubs. The worst injured was James Reeb, a white UU minister from Boston. Selma’s public hospital refused to treat him and he had to be taken to the hospital in Birmingham two hours away. He died there two days later.
On the front line of the 3rd march linked arm and arm with Dr. King were numerous religious leaders of all races and faiths. One of those was a Rabbi Joshua Heschel. Starting in 2003 in St. Louis, a group called Jews United for Justice presents an annual award called the Heschel-King award to honor the historic freedom story of Jewish and African Americans in coalition working toward justice. In 2007, the award was presented to Rabbi Jerome Grollman, who marched with Dr. King in Washington and in Selma. In 2008, Rabbi Earl Grollman, a specialist in crisis intervention and grief counseling was honored by the Cambridge Mass. Community for his work with responders, his work with the Jewish underground in the former Soviet Union and his work marching with Dr. King marching in Selma.
As earlier mentioned earlier that I remembered when inter-racial marriage was illegal in numerous states. You may remember that in 1967 the US Supreme Court ruled that state laws outlawing inter-racial marriage were unconstitutional. How does this relate to me ?
My wife’s maiden name is Cox. Her mother’s name was Barbara Cox and her maiden name was Vanison and her father was Frederick Douglas Vanison . His relatives go back to Geraldine Vanison who was married to Jesse James Loving Sr. from Caroline County Va. They in turn are related thru Jesse Loving to Richard Perry Loving and his wife Mildred Jeter Loving, the inter-racial couple who were charged with illegal marriage in Va. and whose case was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Clearly Dr. King’s dream is not yet fully realized however each year there are numerous inter-racial marriages and as a result there are more and more people claiming mixed race status to include our President Barrack Obama. I think we are on the right path. Thank you
At the “one on one” personal relationship level between blacks and whites, the MLK’s dream scenario has always existed and continues to exist, albeit that many such relationships exist as a self-assuming superior white person relating to an black person, or in relationships where the black person has come to “know his or her place.” MLK’s dream scenario is a null factor in these types of relationships.
However, there are many “one on one” loving and caring interracial relationships between blacks and whites that have no superior to inferior positions and they are not the result of MLK’s dream speech, but they’ve have come about because of a shared openness and mutual attraction between the two human beings involved. However, I do believe that MLK dream scenario has had an uplifting social and political effect on the American consciousness, such that third party negative, public comments about these relationships are considered to be obnoxious and undesirable. This is social and cultural progress that is directly attributable to MLK’s dream scenario.
In the observable public domain of commerce and business, significant progress has been made in eliminating open indications of racial discrimination in public accommodations. This progress can be attributed to a large degree to the humanizing effects of MLK’s dream speech on white America’s public consciousness.
The U.S. government and many of its agencies, have made significant progress in eliminating racial discriminations within their personnel and organizational structures and have worked at enforcing civil right laws in many of our states where lots more work needs to be done. Again, this is social and cultural progress that is directly attributable to MLKs dream scenario.
MLK’s dream scenario faces strong headwinds within private, non-U.S governmental groups, organizations, corporations, and institutions and markets. These types of organizations are designed to protect and serve not just “white privilege,” but “class privilege” and the “money and wealth privilege” of their occupants. Most of these organizations may cite their equal employment opportunity policy when recruiting new employees, but they have separate, non-publicized, employee recruiting systems; about which many qualified black candidates will never know. These organizations are work systems that are geared for the success of motivated white men, and are incidentally and structurally designed to eliminate black men; with no malice intended. I see no way for MLK’s dream scenario reaching fruition in these types of organizations because there is no compelling requirement or reason for them to change their discriminatory culture.
Today, the realization of MLKs dream scenario is severely hampered by the following conditions:
White racism is now masquerading as something else. Today, only a few racists wear white hoods and let us remember that racism is more than skin or clothing deep; racism in mind-deep and a part of the prevailing culture of America. My assessment is that: in our law and order, penal, political, and economic systems, racism is still very strong and it has acquired modern attire and sophisticated language in expressing itself. Racism is now cloaked in words, slogans, and actions such as “policy differences”, “State Rights”, “taking back our country”, “Tea Partyers”, “the Birthers”, “The Religious Right”, “Voter Fraud Prevention Laws,” “Anybody but Obama,” “Congressional Obstructionism,” “State Emergency Management Plans,” etc. However, beyond the normal thrust of low-level, work-a-day, racist attitudes, and beyond the seemingly legitimate rhetoric of politics, I sense increased hostility toward black males on the part of many white males. I sense this hostility is because many white males are reacting angrily and perhaps intuitively to the idea and reality of a black President of the United States. This idea and reality is a cosmic-size, cultural shock to many white males who are now reacting angrily by engaging in political and economic backlash activities against black people. These backlash activities will have a long term negative effect in promoting MLK’s dream scenario. (See Reader’s note 1).
Black people’s “Jesus worshipping” folkway is a psychological impediment to their ability to strive toward MLK’s dream scenario. Most black people are “Jesus worshippers,” but they don’t know the history of “Jesus worshipping.” They don’t know that Roman Emperor Constantine and ancient Roman Church bishops decided, crafted, and idolized Jesus as Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world; portrayed Jesus Christ as a (Roman-like) white male and commanded the people to worship him or be executed. Most black people are inattentive to the fact that European-American slave masters imposed this same “Jesus worshipping” requirement on their Negro slaves, and that black people of today are the inheritors of the American slave master’s religion; a religion that requires black men to bow down and worship the imagery (real or imagined) of a white male as Savior of the world (See Reader’s note 2).
Now I say, and so do several other educators and psychologists that “Jesus worshipping” is equivalent to “white male worshipping.” Jesus worshipping is a subliminal indoctrination process that reinforces the notion of white male superiority and psychologically oppresses and emasculates young black males, many of whom react in ways that lead to self-hate, recalcitrance, and self-injurious behavior. Jesus worshipping also leads both black (and white) people to develop a white superiority syndrome that promotes feelings of superiority in white people and feelings of inferiority in black people. Ask yourself; when black people/children are required by circumstances and controls to sit for centuries in schools and churches with the image of a white male as Savior of the World before them, what will it do to their minds?
Before black people can effectively mobilize themselves as equals to white counterparts in promoting MLK’s dream scenario, they must free their minds of Jesus worship. This means that educated black people must confront, work with, cajole, and encourage the black clergy to stop its Jesus worship protocol and sponsor a “new” version” of Christianity. The “new” version of Christianity would espouse worshipping only God the spirit, source, and sustainer of life, and honoring “Prophet Jesus” as a gifted human being. (See Reader’s note 3)
Short of this accomplishment, black people will never be able to see themselves collectively as equals to white people, because their “religious indoctrination” will not allow them (in their heart of hearts) to view themselves as equals to white people. Unfortunately, the greatest obstacle to this accomplishment will be the resistance of self-serving and arrogant elements of the black clergy.
Given all the above, I am still optimistic. I predict that America’s struggle to embrace MLK’s dream will be a slog, but it will be a slog worth undertaking. Governmental institutions may make progress toward the realization of MLK’s dream scenario, but it is my opinion that unless America is invaded by aliens from space or is threatened by serious and extreme outside challenges, the best we can expect within our private, non-governmental institutions, corporations, businesses and market places is 60-70% realization of MLKs dream scenario in the next one hundred and fifty years. (See Reader’s note 4)
I grew up in Montreal and as a child I remember being bewildered and a little frightened by the television images of black people being sprayed by water hoses and jumped on by dogs. I came to learn that these were scenes from the Civil Rights movement. These images were shown repeatedly over the years and came to represent to us the reality of Black people in the Southern States.
Among the adults of that day, if the subject of conversation turned to the States, you might hear references to Emmet Till or the Scottsboro boys. Once in a while, someone would tell the tale of their one experience travelling in the South when they dared to walk into the restroom labeled white.
Decades later – even now among older people – the American South was perceived as a place of hatred, a dangerous place for anyone of African descent.
When I graduated from University of Toronto I went straight back to Montreal and to an economy as bad as the one we have now. After a few years of job-hopping interspersed with unemployment, I gradually realized I might have to join the exodus of job-seekers leaving the city. One spring, the annual conference of the American Planning Association was held in Montreal. It featured a job market. One announcement caught my eye as being particularly interesting and after a couple of interviews I had a job offer that I did not expect.
But the job was in Austin, Texas, in a Southern state. Texas? People asked. Isn’t that in the South? One New York friend said to me, “You know you’re going to be below the Mason-Dixon Line Still, this looked to be by far the best job I had ever had a chance at. If I could just hang in for two years without coming to harm, I could move back north to civilization with good job experience under my belt.
So after many months of jumping through Immigration hoops, I landed in Austin, Texas to live and work. Frankly, I was kind of scared. As I prepared to look for an apartment, I asked an African American co-worker if there were areas I should avoid. She talked to me about traffic. She didn’t seem to understand what I was getting at so I made a remark about not wanting to encounter any burning crosses. She couldn’t believe her ears. “You can live anywhere you want”, she said. “It’s not like that down here”. What did I know? I was only slightly reassured.
I went out apartment hunting and met smiling, friendly Texans who wanted me to rent one of their apartments. I found a place on a quiet street within walking distance of the office. The neighborhood was predominantly white. I walked to work and as I passed people I heard them saying hello or good morning. Soon, I realized that they were speaking to me and expected me to say hello to them. More culture shock.
One day while riding on a bus, I mentioned to an African American fellow passenger that I had feared southern racism before coming here and was pleasantly surprised. She asserted that the idea that Southerners were more was “the biggest lie”. At church I met an African American woman who had moved from Buffalo. She was at her wit’s end with the cheerful, chatty white people of Austin. She knew behind the smiles lurked racism but she could not discern it. She could not tell who was who. “I have no clues” she said.
So, I learned that the picture I had arrived with was badly distorted but I had no picture to replace it with. Like my church friend, I had no clues – who and where were the real white southerners – the dangerous racists? I realized that I did not know what I thought I knew and I decided I would make no assumptions – just watch, listen, and ask questions.
But as a person of color with no clues, I began to notice certain racial patterns that no one seemed to be talking about at least not in public. First, I saw that there were poor white people. In fact, a small group of white men – most likely displaced oil workers – lived under and around a railway embankment a mile or so from my apartment. They stood at the parking exits of the grocery stores with knapsacks and signs saying “will work for food.” One of these men asked me if there were jobs where I worked. I told him that there were several restaurants down the road with big Now Hiring signs in front. He said that he knew about them and had applied but came to learn they did not want people like him – middle aged men with big, rough hands.
I saw no homeless Mexican-Americans. I believe their families and customs are such that they take care of their less fortunate relatives and friends – share their homes so there is no need to live on the streets.
I saw only one African American homeless man on a regular basis. He spent most of the day on a corner downtown. One slow news day, the Austin-American Statesman decided to do a piece on homelessness in the city. They had a picture of one man and one man only – the same African American man that I would see regularly downtown. There was no way after reading that article that you would think homelessness had anything to do with whites.
While I was in Austin, Jesse Jackson ran for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. I went to see him speak as many times as I could. I saw him cheered by crowds of University of Texas student – an overwhelmingly white group. I saw his volunteers and the farmers who came to hear him in the state capitol building. I could not believe the numbers and variety of white Texans out supporting him. Any time the local media showed Jesse Jackson, he was surrounded only by Black people. Dukakis went on to win the nomination. At least two of my co-workers – one white, one Mexican American, talked sadly about voting for Dukakis in spite of supporting Jackson’s positions because they knew he could not win.
I mentioned that I come from Montreal. When I lived there, it was a bilingual French-English city in which the two language communities were completely separate. However, no one there would consider this division as anything like race in this country.
But I noticed this – that white and black people in Austin would casually talk to each other – from people standing in checkout lines to co-workers in the cafeteria. Spontaneous, casual conversation was normal and natural between the members of the two sides of the divide.
Finally I learned that southerners – Black and White have some other things in common – food. Prior to moving I had read about chitterlings or chittlins in novels. This part of the pig is not available for sale in Canadian grocery stores. I had gone through life without ever seeing a chittlin.
The last summer that I spent in Austin, the office had hired some summer students. Two of them were working with me on a project. Both of the young ladies one black, one white, came from Mississippi. The students worked well together and seemed to be genuine friends. Apart from their pigmentation, they sported similar styles – from clothes to hair. When they spoke – to my outsider’s tin ear, they sounded southern and the same. One day they were having a lively debate about cooking. When I arrived, the black student invited me to weigh in. “Louise – how do you fix your chittlins?” I laughed and laughed and said I did very little cooking. In one minute this little exchange crystallized what I had experienced of this society that bore no resemblance to what I had been taught.
Yes, this was a place with a bitter history. There was racial division but in 1989 this did not necessarily mean active animosity. On each side of the divide live people who more in common than they realize. There were places and situations where the divisions were minimized – such as when people with similar skills work together on the same project. At the same time media and politicians would manipulate and heighten these divisions – perhaps to prevent ordinary people from getting too powerful as a group.
Much of MLK’s dream has in fact come true. Skin color does not mean today what it did in 1963 but other divisions are growing –along ethnic, religious and economic lines. As many have said, much has been done and much remains to be done. Our society needs this dream for all of us.
To me, the contribution of Martin Luther King, Jr., can be summarized in one term, one concept: the Beloved Community. That was the goal, what he was advocating and working toward. “Our ultimate end,” Martin said, “must be the creation of the Beloved Community.”
The concept of the Beloved Community is rooted in Christianity, but not limited to those who define themselves as Christian. It goes back to the teachings and example of Jesus who foretold the coming of the kingdom of God. The nature of the kingdom of God is not entirely clear but sometimes Jesus used images of people gathering together to share a meal, in celebration, like a wedding feast. People who might not know each other, people who might be different from each other, people of different races and classes and even religions—all gathered for this feast. That was like the kingdom of God.
Martin Luther King, Jr. drew upon the concept of the kingdom of God, applied it to this world, called it the Beloved Community. What is the Beloved Community? It is people coming together in affirmation and respect. It is people living together, sharing this earth in peace. It is what happens after forgiveness and reconciliation, when we get past whatever it is that keeps us apart. It is what happens in response to nonviolent change. “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community,” Dr. King wrote, “so that when the battle is over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor.” And again, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
In the years between our time and that of Martin Luther King, there has been struggle, there have been defeats, and there has also been progress. My friend Chris Buice, minister of the UU church in Knoxville, Tennessee, tells a story of his daughter who was about 13 during the last presidential election. Chris happened to mention to her that some white people might not vote for Barack Obama because he is African American. His daughter’s response was, “Really?!” Genuine surprise, “Really!” For a white teenager in Tennessee attending public school to be surprised at encountering racism suggests that this country has changed over the past several decades.
And yet, there is a long way to go. Life experiences of whites in America and people of color are different. Opportunities are different. There’s a substantial income gap between whites and people of color. Life outcomes are different. A history of racism is embedded in our culture, which is not easy to break.
As this struggle continues, I hope that we keep in mind what Martin Luther King was working toward, that is, the ideal of the Beloved Community. His end was not that one people would rise above another and take their turn to dominate. His aim was not that those who had been oppressed might become oppressors. His dream was not the possession of any one people, any one nationality, any one race. His goal was different: a community in which all had a place, all participated, all were honored, all had worth and dignity.
For ultimately, the Beloved Community is about love. It is about how love is expressed in human community. It’s about how to live with love: love for our friends, love for our enemies, love which transforms us and offers forgiveness and reconciliation and brings us together.
As Martin expressed it, “Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites….Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love—which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies—(love) is the solution…”
Reader’s Notes by Christopher C. Bell Jr.
Reader’s notes are not a part of the presentation, but serve as references or explanations to the points of information noted in the presentation
Reader’s Note 1: The “idea and reality” of a black man as the president of the United States is a cultural shock to many white males who for centuries have collectively seen themselves as kings of the world (Congressmen in particular). Now white men must cope with a fearful, unanticipated, cosmic-size psychological dissonance; a black president of the United States. As a reaction to their cultural shock and sense of loss prestige, many white males have allowed their racism to outweigh their own long term self-interests and have taken overt and covert actions that threaten the fundamental brotherhood principles called for in MLK’s dream scenario.
Reader’s Note 2: To underscore this point, On April 29, 1861, Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America in his message to the Confederate Congress said: “… slave masters had elevated their Negro slaves from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized laborers and had supplied them not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction…” The careful religious instruction given the slave was to christianize them and make them “Jesus worshipers.” Jesus worship infects the minds of many black people with a deleterious white superiority syndrome that cultivates in them a belief that white people over black people is in conformity with the Creator and the laws of Creation.
Reader’s note 3: If one is prone toward the ritual of worshipping, one should understand the importance and significance of worshipping ONLY the God of the spirit, source, and sustainer of human life. The worshipping of ONLY the God of the spirit, source, and sustainer of life:
(a) Promotes psychological relief and mental stability in the worshipper and removes all religiously imposed and debilitating, psychological filters and dogmas about a white male as Savior of the World or any other man-made objects. One can not be greater, smarter, or more valuable than that which is the object of his worship. When their object of worship involves the imagery (real or imagined) of a white male, black worshippers have automatically and psychologically granted a position of superiority over themselves of those with the likeness of the worshipped white male. The worship of only God avoids this self-demeaning behavior and complicity in one’s own emotional and psychological oppression.
(b) Safeguards and enhances a positive self-validation in the worshipper that he is a first class product of the Creation and nothing (none) is greater than himself except the God that gives him life. We must understand that the story of Jesus Christ as the son of God is a product of ancient myths and political and religious intrigue. We must also understand that since the days of ancient Rome, the Jesus Myth has been used to indoctrinate and psychologically control most non-white conquered people and compel them to adhere to the teachings and submit to the authority of their white male Christian conquerors, who (by design) bear a close resemblance to Jesus Christ, the required object of their worship.
(c) Provides the worshipper with a clear mind and rationale to resist, remove, or minimize second party religious indoctrinations or dogmas, thus allowing the worshipper to connect spiritually, emotionally, philosophically, and directly with that which he considers to be “the Sacred.”
Reader’s Note 4: Historically in race relations, white people exhibit their deeply held “Rudolph” syndrome or the “Red Nose Reindeer” syndrome This syndrome becomes evident when white people make moves to grant more privileges or work opportunities to black Americans in order to meet a national crisis or challenges such as societal turbulences, disaster, economic calamities, etc., that would put at risk the loss of their (white people’s) freedoms, privileges, or capital opportunities. These societal turbulences or disasters have been the only situations in which white Americans begin to see black Americans as indispensable to the country’s wellbeing and take (cautious) steps to grant them (black Americans) “more equal” citizenship privileges and economic opportunities.
I am guilty of hoping that America is always in some kind of social rights or class privilege protests or philosophical or religious disputations or involvement in long term geo-political competition with other nations or is constantly involved in small but sequential, just wars. Only under such circumstances of societal tension will the “Red Nose Reindeer” syndrome in American whites become activated.