By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBMB
There, I said it. God has consistently convicted me of that and increasingly helped me let a lot of that go over the past 20 years. It occasionally rises up, but He reminds me that racial prejudice is rooted in pride, one race believing it is superior to other races, and that in His eyes, all men are truly created equal since He created all men.
It seems a bit ridiculous to categorize prejudice and say that on a prejudice scale, I was really never that bad. I never perpetrated violence, committed hate crimes, burned crosses, was a member of the Klan or even spray-painted epithets on walls. Heck, I even had black friends, good friends, friends I grew up with and who were good teammates of mine. We spent hours together, but looking back I can definitely recall a sense of cultural separation between them and me divided squarely along our racial differences.
The reality, however, is that prejudice of any kind against any race shouldn’t land somewhere on a relative scale. All prejudice is wrong. Blacks against whites, whites against blacks, blacks and whites against Hispanics – it doesn’t matter. Prejudice in God’s eyes is not relative; it is an absolute and it is absolutely wrong.
I don’t believe the struggle to fight against prejudice just goes away, or ever goes away. Racial prejudice is sin rooted in the heart. The intense current racial division in our country fans the embers of prejudice that reside, not just within me, but millions of people – both blacks and whites. Events over the past couple of years have violently shredded the fragile veil of social congeniality. The racial division that has never been resolved may have politely lingered somewhat beneath the societal fabric, but it was far from dormant. A pot left to simmer will eventually boil over given enough time, and it appears that time has come.
And I wonder, what would Martin Luther King, Jr., do?
I moved to the Memphis area as a sixth grader less than a decade after Dr. King was assassinated on that fateful April day in downtown Memphis. Racial tension was palpable then and still is to a large degree. It is like a virus incubating in a petri dish, contaminating the surrounding environment. It’s difficult for anyone to avoid at least some level of contagion, me included. No one had to teach me blacks were inferior to whites, it was in the air we breathed. It was the cultural norm; the assumed social order. That’s just the way things were, and Dr. King was someone who had disrupted that order.
And he just wouldn’t go away. I remember the national debate leading up to Ronald Reagan signing the 1983 bill establishing the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (which was first observed in 1986). I made comments for years about a national holiday set aside for Dr. King who I simply didn’t feel deserving of the recognition.
Confession Two: My derogatory comments about Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement were conceived and birthed in ignorance.
Confession Three: My ignorance continued until 2016.
Despite the gains made over the years in shedding my prejudice, I had done nothing on the other side of the ledger to increase my knowledge of what it’s like to be black in America. Frankly, it never crossed my mind until last year when more interracial violence initiated a joint worship service between my predominantly white church and a couple of predominantly black churches. My pastor challenged us to do one thing individually that might contribute toward racial reconciliation; to reach across the aisle and build a relationship with someone of another color. I did that, having lunch several times with an extremely intelligent and successful black man who shared an amazing story of overcoming one obstacle after another, none of which I’ve ever faced as a white.
The second thing I did was listen to an autobiography of Dr. King and learn more about the segregation of the 1950’s and ’60’s. It has been shockingly revealing to me how many times his character is immediately assassinated in conversations when I mention something related to his drive toward a better life for the poor, not just blacks. There is reference to womanizing, political subversion, communist ties, anti-Americanism, an anti-Vietnam War position and failure to recognize the deity of Christ. Every single one of those positions is irrelevant to the issue of racial oppression and the evils of the segregation Dr. King was addressing. Instead of debating and resolving the core problem, we still chase a tangent that distracts us from addressing the issue.
No, Dr. King was not perfect, but am I? Are you? Honestly, I don’t know which rumors are true and which are not, but what I do know is that the man met a violent end for peacefully standing up for the basic human dignity that was supposedly described as an unalienable right in our Declaration of Independence. He took a bullet trying to bring about a better society, not just for blacks but for everyone. He did not sit passively by and watch in silence as people were savagely beaten and terrorized, but rather took action to rally all men to a higher standard. He called America to actually be the light set upon the hill in deed as well as word.
So today, on the day our country has set aside to honor the memory and legacy of one who fought for peace, you have a choice to make, whether you are black or white. Will you continue to feed the racial division tearing at our country or will you take personal action that leads to unity?
Confession Four: I struggle with racial prejudice against blacks…but by God’s grace I’m working on it.