“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of (people) willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid road of human dignity.” – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Reverend Dr. King wrote those words over 45 years ago, but they remain true today. Then was the time for positive change, and now is also the time to make change in our institutions and in our hearts, if justice is truly to be done in the United States.
I have watched and listened as the recent violence in France has been discussed in the press. One thing seemed to me to stand out above almost everything else: it seems to be a human inclination to regard those different from ourselves with fear and anger. If we are to progress as human beings, we must fight against that inclination with every ounce of our being. Whether the perceived “other” is dark-skinned, or wearing a hijab, or Jewish, or has a foreign-sounding last name, underneath it all they are human, exactly like ourselves, and they deserve the respect and dignity we give everyone else.
Here in the United States we created a web of legal and cultural barriers to equality that still bedevil us, and it is up to us to do something about it. Lip service is worse than doing nothing at all; lip service is nothing but soothing laziness. This Martin Luther King Day, we white Americans need to challenge ourselves to do more, to do today, to speak up when something is not right and to keep speaking up until it is made right.
We cannot distract ourselves with list-making for persons of color – they are more than qualified to make their own to-do lists. We cannot distract ourselves with celebrations for work done 50 or 40 or 30 years ago; we need to focus on the work that remains undone. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by those who benefit from the current situation, either; our task is to hunger and thirst and work for justice until justice is manifest among us. This is our time; it is up to us.