This past week I joined fifty of my Charlotte Presbyterian pastor sisters and brothers for a two-day workshop called "Dismantling Racism." By design, the group was half white/half black. Our two facilitators led us through a deliberate process in large and small group conversations where open and honest dialogue was encouraged. I found the experience both enlightening and exhausting. It is hard having your eyes opened to see in full a reality that, by design, puts one ethnic group at an inherent disadvantage under another.
Our tendency is to say that we didn't ask for this, that it's not the way we think or act or feel, that we're not racist. It's an understandable initial defense mechanism. It is not, however, an acceptable final landing place. As long as we remain unaware of and/or disinterested in learning about the continued effects of cultural and institutional racism on our own lives, we perpetuate the lie that racism is.
So on this MLK Day I want to invite you (and I'm speaking primarily to my white brothers and sisters here) to do more than simply attend an MLK service or post great MLK quotes in social media: watch the Emmy Award winning documentary Colorblind: Rethinking Race. A heads-up: this is not an easy thing to watch. It recounts in stark and shocking ways how various institutions at the center of our societal structure - government, schools, education, science to name a few - have, over the past few hundred years, passed laws and instituted norms and understandings designed to elevate Caucasian people above and at the expense of African-Americans and other people of color. And how we are still living that reality.
I kind of equate this video to having a bright light blasted in your face. You immediately shut your eyes tight. Your instinct is not to open them because the light is so bright and it hurts. It takes intentionality and more than a little faith to get over that instinct. When you open them, though, your eyes slowly begin adjusting to your new reality, and you start to see, for the first time, what's been there all along. The trick from there on, of course, is to keep looking.
Let's do more this MLK day than just express gratitude and be thankful for a man who had a dream. Let's also pledge to open our eyes so we can begin to help our world live into that dream.