The Moderate White

 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; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” 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.

A few days ago I had the opportunity to discuss ideas surrounding race and faith with a lovely group of individuals at the charming Love N’ Faith Community Cafe here in DC. We were reading an excerpt from the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. (which is one of my favs), and the concept of “moderate whites” came up.

The “moderate white” can basically be thought of as someone who claims to “not be racist,” yet they do not actively do anything to advocate for the black community (or other racial minorities) or promote racial justice.  They are “tolerant,” yet they are not reaching out to repair racial relations or making any sort of effort to have meaningful, effective conversations about race and really striving to understand things from a different perspective.

This really hit me hard. I mean, of course I’m all about racial equality and gender equality and a whole plethora of all sorts of equality. However, how can we really claim to be an advocate if we’re not actively taking action and reaching out to love those of different races? Are we fighting alongside them, or are we simply not getting in the way? If I lived in Alabama in the 1950s, for example, would I have remained silent while lynchings were happening down the street in plain sight? Would I have taken a stand, or simply “kept quiet” and try to maintain the cultural status quo?

The word “advocate” is defined as “a person who publicly supports a particular cause” I decided to lay it on my ego a bit further and look up the definition of “support,” which means to “bear all or part of the weight of; hold up.” Wow. Oh man. As much as I would like to say that I was an advocate for improving racial relations, I honestly can’t say that I live up to this definition.

If we are truly striving to make the world a better place, and to promote unity (not through sameness, but through celebration of shared humanness despite our differences), then what are we actively doing to make that happen? I’ve started asking myself that, and so I decided to ask some of my friends who are racial minorities what their thoughts were on how we could best support them.

Their response? Simply listen.

Hear their stories, step into their shoes, and generate discussions about how we can develop solutions together… how we can “bear the weight” together.

Simply put, there is no quick and easy solution. But one thing I do know is that the first step of that solution begins in love and understanding. Reaching out instead of staying in our little comfort zones and maintaining an aura of “lukewarm acceptance.”


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