Letter To The White Moderate
by Jason Janz
We are engaged in the largest civil rights upheaval since the 1960’s. The events in Ferguson, New York, and in many places we’ll never hear about have ignited a nation. My desire is to encourage sympathetic white people to use their voice and influence for change at this crucial time.
Sadly, I am not speaking to the majority of white Americans. According to Pew research, fully 60% of white adults do not believe race played a role in the Brown killing. Even after Garner, 48% of the whites do not believe race played a role in that case. I’m not sure what that group needs to see to be convinced, but it is what it is. I am speaking to 18% of the white population who believed race played a major factor in the Garner case, 16% who believed it was a minor factor, and 18% who don’t know.
If you are part of the 34% that believe race played some role (51,000,000 white adults), you ought to be deeply concerned. And I believe you ought to do something about it. You represent roughly 20% of the entire adult population in the United States. If you threw your weight around, things could change.
As a follower of Jesus, I’d like to remind you of the story of the Good Samaritan where he exhorted us to not walk by on the other side when we saw our neighbor in pain. It’s one thing to observe that we have a problem, it’s another thing to care enough to engage with and remedy the problem. Someone once defined compassion as “Your pain in my heart.” Can we feel the pain deep enough to actually do something?
The price of inaction is great. If nothing changes, we will continue to live in a society that still tolerates inequity and inequality. Martin Luther King, Jr., who is remembered on this weekend, had words for his enemies, but he had even more hard-hitting words for people who saw the problem but did nothing about it.
King makes a strong argument that the white moderate was really an enemy to the cause. To King, you were either a vocal supporter or you were anti-civil rights. He said, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” He goes on, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” King chides us today with prophetic words, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
What can you do? Of course you can write, call, post, march, vote, etc. But can I encourage you to do two crucial things first? First, listen. Place yourself in a position to deeply listen to the stories and feelings of people who’ve been oppressed by law enforcement. Hear it and feel it. Second, ask. Ask the oppressed how you can serve and then just do what they say. This article is not my idea. I was asked to do it by a friend who’s been hurt.
When you move to action, I want to encourage you to adopt a servant mentality vs. a leadership role. Historically, when sympathetic allies who have not experienced oppression take a central role, it has caused the movement to lose its edge. Frankly, we’re just not upset enough to be bold. So, let’s serve in the way that truly helps.
One way to get involved is to engage with a thoughtful, young impactful wing of the movement called the Denver Freedom Riders. We have designed a local conference here called Black Lives Matter on Monday, January 19th, after the MLK Marade in the McNichols Building from 1-4. Let’s show up, listen, ask, and act.
Jason Janz is a pastor at Providence Bible Church in NorthEast Denver, a multi-ethnic church. He participated in the 3rd Denver Freedom Ride with his son, Paton.
MLK Letter From a Birmingham Jail
Article on Pew Study – http://jezebel.com/most-white-people-think-race-played-no-factor-in-fergus-1668476797
Harvard study on white involvement in civil rights – http://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/minmov.html