“The cry for civil rights is like a rubber band: intermittent passionate public support stretches it forward, despite those anchored in the past pulling it backward. It stretches and stretches until that support starts to drift away to something shinier and newer – then it snaps back.
“The stretching has made it slightly longer, so there is some progress – three steps forward, two back is still a step forward – but it's nowhere near what was promised. And we await another horrific act to bring the unaffected back to help us pull forward again.”
– Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
NBA Hall of Famer and Los Angeles Lakers legend
Since its inception, our nation has functioned with such an alarming sense of contradiction that had you not lived through any period of its racial friction, you would certainly think the story was nothing more than mere fiction.
Only in America can we celebrate the election of the preacher who now serves the congregation Martin Luther King Jr. once led as a United States senator, and before 24 hours passed throngs of rioters would come crashing through the United States Capitol door, all because the sitting president's horror show is about to be no more.
It is something Dr. King never could have envisioned, even when he suggested we were headed toward a reality where chaos might be commissioned. The struggle would cost him his life, create grieving children and a wife, and leave a void that remains in the journey to rid our nation of racial strife.
This ground on which we stand is still far from the promised land, and almost daily we are reminded that for some of us things are certainly less than grand.
We have made undeniable progress, but there are still miles to go in the process. Our nation remains, in the words of the late Maya Angelou, “the yet to be United States of America.”
In his book, “I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Michael Eric Dyson suggests that “amnesia also makes it easier for Americans to believe that racial progress was an inevitable feature of American history. Amnesia makes people forget that the specific problems between blacks and whites are not faceless, nameless, voiceless, and raceless. It can also make us forget that racial problems are not self-resolving.”
Indeed, no process is ever inevitable and, in fact, if issues are left unaddressed the results almost always end up regrettable. Our nation cannot continue to be so adored that its inequities are patently ignored.
The disparate treatment of Black people was again on full public blast and revealed a sickening but all too familiar contrast. Mostly white rioters were met with such hospitality that selfies were taken, but when Black protestors peacefully marched in those same streets, hundreds of lives were left shaken.
Yes, “Black Lives Matter,” but this was yet another example that there are still so many barriers left to shatter.
Yes, as difficult as it is, I still believe as Dr. King did then that the issue is not whether but when. It remains an attainable goal, but it requires an honest inventory of our citizens' souls.
The enemies of Dr. King's “beloved community” are trusting the traditional reliance of the majority's silence. His contention that “there comes a time when silence is betrayal” needs to be heard now more than ever.
If freedom and equality are our choice, then we must find the courage again to speak with one voice. When acts of hatred are executed against Jews, we must condemn them collectively or morally we all lose. When the poor continue to be shut out of opportunity's door, we must think creatively of ways to balance the economic score. When the cost of health care is more than the average citizen can bear, we must denounce it as patently unfair and at the core of many people's sense of despair.
In this year that starts with an ongoing pandemic, we must also loudly declare that racism is pathetic. We must see with clarity then act with charity.
If we choose to remain blind, we will find ourselves in an inevitable bind, and the measure of progress we've enjoyed will begin to rapidly rewind.
The Rev. Bill McGill is senior pastor ofFort Wayne'sImani Baptist Temple.