I’ve heard this statement many times and it’s often followed by, “but…” which sometimes precedes a racist statement, opinion, or ideology. Author Dr. Ibram Kendi has challenged me to ask, “But are you an anti-racist?” Many of us can’t define what a racist is, thus, none of us claim to be “racist” or would ever want to be labeled a racist. But the opposite of “racist”, is not, “not racist”. The opposite of racist is “anti-racist”. We either endorse or oppose racial equality and hierarchy. We either endorse through inaction or support through our actions, systems that oppress and disfavor certain groups of people. We either allow racial inequities to persevere (as a racist), or we confront racial inequities, (as an anti-racist). There is no safe zone when it comes to racism.
Dr. King’s, Letter From a Birmingham Jail (April 16th, 1963), has impacted my life and ministry in big ways. In it he called out “white moderates” (specifically white pastors) for their lack of involvement and silence during the civil rights movement. He said the problem was not the KKK or the White Citizen’s Council but white moderates- people who claimed to be for racial equality and justice but refused to actually do anything or say anything, or felt the timing was not right. It’s possible to agree with a particular philosophy or movement but never get involved and actually do anything. So, are you a racist or are you an anti-racist? You’re one or the other.
Even today, we still have far too many “white moderates” who are not advocating and fighting for racial equality and justice. Dr. King wrote, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Sadly, this is true, and the oppressed need those who are not oppressed to speak out and to fight for them. Systemic racism demands that people in positions of power leverage their influence for the marginalized and oppressed. I know many followers of Jesus who are doing just that in our city. As a pastor I’m so encouraged to see more and more people in our church stepping into that space of racial equality, social justice, and reconciliation. I see business leaders, community leaders, volunteers, and advocates, bringing real effort and action that is dismantling and breaking down long-standing, systemic racism in our communities.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech (August 28, 1963), Dr. King said, “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” And now, nearly 57 years later, some of us are still waiting to move, waiting to jump into the fray and do something. We can all do something- a kind word, a new hire, a mentoring moment, speaking up and speaking out in a conversation with a friend, listening more intently, and seeking to understand. Others of us can leverage our position to change decades-long policies and processes to bring about systemic change that can turn the tide of racism in our sphere of influence.
Here we are, 52 years after his death, and it’s still time to act. Dr. King said, “Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.” The best way to honor Dr. King is by honoring the King who has set us free, through His life, death and resurrection. We are now free at last. In Christ we are free to love without any need for love in return. We are free to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. We are free to bring voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless. Are you a racist or an anti-racist? Now is the time to decide. Now is the time to act.