Dear White People: An Exhortation to Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day Differently

Today, most of our newsfeeds will fill with Martin Luther King Jr. quotes. We’ll celebrate his stand for racial justice, his pointed voice of wisdom, his peaceful stance in the midst of violent hate. But how many of us will question whether or not we would have been such enthusiastic supporters 50 years ago? We love to assume we’d be on the right side of history… but I’m guessing, a lot of us wouldn’t have been. Rather than drawing hypothetical conclusions about how we would have acted in the past, the best thing we can do is gauge our reactions in the present.

When conversations about racial injustice erupt, do you listen attentively or roll your eyes at those you deem “stuck in the past” or “riling up disunity”?

When a Black person expresses experiencing racism, do you assume their honesty or judge that they’re just “playing the race card” and are too easily offended?

When a Confederate flag is waved, do you hold the simplistic view that it’s just “celebrating Southern heritage”, or see this symbol of “heritage” for what it is—an historical relic of racial oppression?

Do you listen humbly to Black perspectives on current race relations, especially those perspectives that might challenge your own assumptions, or stick with voices and views that never go against your own?

Do you demand that Black people should concentrate on celebrating progress and scoff at them when they grieve a history marred by hundreds of years of oppression, or do you sympathize and seek to mourn with those who mourn?

When the Black community discusses the residual effects of historical sins, do you immediately defend that you’re not responsible for other generations, or do you seek to obey Isaiah 1:17 and expend effort to “correct oppression”?

When white people are called out for present sins, do you listen humbly, evaluate your own contribution, and own the guilt of your race, or do you immediately point out that “there are problems in the Black community too” and seek to shift blame?

There are many more questions we could ask, but let’s direct our focus this way: In addition to honoring Martin Luther King Jr. by posting compelling quotes today, let’s commemorate his legacy by listening humbly to the Black community, learning eagerly from the Black perspective, and loving earnestly our Black brothers and sisters.

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