Monday, June 01, 2020

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Language of the Unheard

Some food for thought and prayer.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, "A riot is the language of the unheard." King, the leader and architect of the non-violent Civil Rights movement, said this by way of explaining the pent-up grief and rage of African-Americans in the mid-60s that led to riots. King wasn't condoning rioting; he was explaining it.

The murder of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street has set off a variety of reactions: peaceful demonstrations at the killing of another innocent black man; rioting and looting by some genuinely aggrieved and harmed by a system of justice that puts targets on the backs of African-Americans, with whites often facing no punishment for perpetrating murder; rioting and looting by opportunists, white and black; and, as so often happens, those effectively condoning systemic racism by saying things like, "What happened to George Floyd was wrong, but what 'they' did to that Target store was awful."

I do not condone rioting and looting. But to put that on the same plain as the systemic, constant, and historic danger to which African-Americans are subjected each day is a false equivalence. For African-Americans, it's dangerous to walk on the street, drive in a car, go to a restaurant or a store, do bird-watching, or pray in their church, among other things. The sin of racism causes white people to threaten and call the police on African-Americans engaged in the innocuous activities of everyday life and to see many George Floyds, although not so publicly, killed with sickening frequency.

Can we white Americans muster sufficient empathy and can we who confess faith in Christ, ask God to create enough love for our neighbor for us to see how centuries of being unheard could lead to grief, sadness, distrust, anger, rage, and even rioting?

There ARE opportunists among those who have been stealing merchandise, destroying and defacing buildings, menacing people, and, in at least one case, with the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, destroying history. Some of those opportunists are white, many doing their desecrating work as part of a "cause" while blacks beg them to stop.

But if we allow our minds to wander from the real issue here, we only stoke the fires of more frustration, anger, and rioting in the future.

The real issue is that it isn't safe for African-Americans to live in the United States.

It isn't safe for my great-niece and my great-nephew, whose father is African-American, to live in the land of their birth, where they've already achieved so much. All they have to do is be at the wrong place at the wrong time--African-Americans who dare to live and breathe--and they can be harassed, arrested, or worse.

How do people speak who haven't been heard, when all the modes of expression that others enjoy are blocked to them?

It's long past time for we white Americans to listen.

And for Christians, the act of listening is a faithful way to heed our Lord's call to love our neighbor.

We need to demonstrate by our commitment to love and justice that we value life more than we do property or convenience.

Every life.

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