Almost 60 years ago, in August, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter while locked up in a Birmingham cell. In it he accused white moderates, who were ostensibly on his side in the fight against segregation, of being more of an obstacle than the KKK. This post is about how much that accusation holds true today.
Systemic racism and white supremacy are subjects that are difficult to discuss or get to grips with in all societies where being white is "the norm." This may sound strange, but this holds true for any minoritarian trait. Where being straight and cisgender is the norm, special consideration has to be given to homosexuals and transgenders; straight people don't have to "come out of the closet" and cisgenders don't have to fight for their right to gender-affirming healthcare. Systemic racism, white supremacy and patriarchy are the simple and straightforward reality born out of the historical fact that white males have been in power for centuries. Their power is the norm, and anything deviating from it must be given special consideration, and explicit justification.
In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. participated in a peaceful protest in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most segregated in America at the time. The protest was aimed against this segregation and was sparked by the merchants of the city who failed to live up to their promise to get rid of racial signs in their establishments, like "whites" and "blacks" to indicate which toilet can be used by which people. He got arrested and thrown in jail, but that's something he expected to happen ad something he had accepted beforehand as a likely outcome. What he didn't expect, was the response from the moderate white politicians and leaders who were supposed to share his goal of "a more perfect union" in which whites and blacks could live together as brothers and sisters. MLK opens his letter with:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
source: Letter from Birmingham Jail
His so-called white compatriots even went so far as to call this strictly peaceful protest "extreme" and that his actions "must be condemned because they precipitate violence." This outright condemnation of the peaceful effort to open up the door to negotiations over some semblance of racial equality inspired MLK to write the following paragraph:
I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." 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.
source: Letter from Birmingham Jail
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The above quoted paragraph is from the end of page three of this five-page letter and I encourage you to read it all; MLK had a way with words that is rarely matched, even while scribbling in a city jail, and they convey very effectively the plight of the African Americans in America not even six decades ago. And what I would ask you at this point is this: how much progress has been made since? More precisely: has the role of the white moderate changed in any way? Have they now forsaken that weird prioritization of order over justice? The answer is clearly not. Just recently Democrat Senator Kirsten Sinema was a guest speaker at a Mitch McConnel event, and she repeated her opposition to get rid of the filibuster; you can listen to her defense of procedures over justice in the above linked video. In January she and Joe Manchin blocked voting reforms that would make it easier for African Americans to vote with the same appeal to "order over justice":
On Thursday, Sinema said that while she backs the Democrats’ voting rights laws, she would not support an exception to the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold to pass the legislation. Manchin later followed suit, saying he would not vote to “eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”
By prioritizing an arcane Senate rule over the protection of voting rights, Manchin and Sinema have chosen “order” over justice. The clergymen Dr. King addressed in his letter similarly elevated procedural and strategic complaints over the urgent need for racial equality, even though city officials in Birmingham secured an injunction against civil rights demonstrations and were negotiating with civil rights activists in bad faith. By claiming the movement should continue negotiating with those who were unified in their opposition to racial progress, the clergymen were effectively siding with segregation and suborning Black rights to White whims.
That's where we are now, and it's something that's not easy, especially for whites, to get to grips with. It's strange how white moderates are perfectly understanding of the fact that being born with dark skin comes with certain disadvantages, but have much more difficulty admitting that being born with light skin comes with certain advantages. I'd like you to watch the below linked video, which doesn't mention MLK even once, but is precisely about the white moderates he criticized for aiding the cause of the segregationists. Innuendo Studios separates whites into four groups from extreme left to extreme right: anti-racists, white moderates, white collaborators and white supremacists. He makes the case that only the anti-racists on the extreme left are actually helping the cause of African Americans for true equality, and how the remaining three groups fight among themselves for power using non-whites as a weapon. Watch it; it makes a very convincing case and doesn't let the white moderates from the Democratic Party off the hook.
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