For many people, this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday might be hitting harder than usual. While injustices towards our black brothers and sisters have been going on literally for centuries, it definitely felt like 2020 was the impetus for a renewal in the prioritization of racial reconciliation and justice. We began to see people come together with a unified cry for justice. We marched and we listened to podcasts. We read books and we hashtagged. We signed petitions and we prayed. We had hard discussions and we said their names. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. The list goes on.
It was hard not to feel swept up in the moment. Speaking as a white female, I felt as though my eyes had been opened up on a whole new level. I felt enraged and heartbroken and wanted to do something about it. Research shows I wasn’t alone. When you look at the demographics of people who protested and posted in the weeks and months following these unjust deaths, there is one marked difference from previous racial justice movements: the increased presence of white people. One New York Times article shares data from an initial survey of the New York and Los Angeles protests, revealing roughly more than 50% of protesters were white.
In short, it was a long overdue wake-up call. White people all around were saying “I can’t believe this is happening,” when our black brothers and sisters were wondering how we were just now seeing it. They had been there all along.
But in this moment of enlightenment, outrage and passion for white people, we neglected to acknowledge something important: the fact that when we left the march or the webinar or the conversation at the coffee shop, most of us could and would return to our normal lives. We could post about injustice without actually suffering it. We could move on with our lives long after the hashtag stopped trending when in reality, there are others whose lives are marked by instances of injustice, violence and racism every day. I have been guilty of this – the march and move on – but I don’t want to be anymore. This past summer, I took the above photo at a march in Apex, posted it on my own story and felt like I had made great strides towards racial justice.
But here’s what I quickly realized. Racial justice needs to be more than a moment: it needs to be a movement. Because the highs do not last, and the highs do not lead to long-lasting change and reform. Racial justice doesn’t happen overnight or in the 24 hours that your Instagram story is live.
Speaking of Instagram, one of my favorite people to follow right now is Jemar Tisby, bestselling author of The Color of Compromise (highly recommend) and president of The Witness BCC. He recently released a new book called How to Fight Racism in which he beautifully expresses:
“There is no amount of books you can read that will reduce the disproportionate rate at which people of color are incarcerated. There is no amount of probing coffeeshop conversations you can have that will shift the racial segregation present in our public schools. To enact society-wide change, people must commit to deconstructing laws that have a disparate impact on people of different races and rewrite the rules so they lead to greater equity among people of all races and ethnicities.”
Good thoughts, intentions and sentiments aren’t enough anymore. They’ve never been enough. They can certainly drive momentum and raise awareness…but if you stop there you are just pulling back the slightest corner of the quilt of racial injustice that has blanketed this nation for far too long. Issues of injustice are never solved by your isolated post, especially when your overall lifestyle is not one that reflects a drive towards racial justice.
In 2021, I want to ask myself the uncomfortable questions: does my lifestyle reflect what I supposedly champion on the internet? Am I really invested in this hard work of racial justice or am I doing it to sound good? Am I doing the bare minimum or am I willing to make changes in my own life and put in the effort for longstanding, systemic change? Am I doing it because it’s trendy or because I believe that both individually and collectively we reflect the image of God? Am I doing it from a place of guilt or from a place of conviction, authenticity and, above all, love?
As we approach a day that celebrates one of our nation’s most courageous heroes in the battle against racial injustice, here’s my challenge to white people, and most of all to myself: make a move from just talking about it to actually doing something about it. Put your money where your mouth is by finding a nonprofit that works in the racial justice space (message me if you want some suggestions!) Take the start of the new year as an opportunity to look at your goals and resolutions and outline a few steps you can take in your personal life to invest in this work. Just start somewhere. There are plenty of resources out there. Not knowing is not an excuse anymore. Personally, I’m starting with Jemar Tisby’s book I quoted above, How to Fight Racism, to get some ideas and start praying through the “what next?”
I don’t want us to just go on another high. Because the conversation has to last much longer than Monday, January 18. We have to do more than post a photo of Dr. King with one of his famous quotes on it and then pat ourselves on the back for being woke. We have to keep talking but also start walking. We have to put action behind our words. Because only then will we see start to see “justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)