I sit here, before dawn on MLK Day, remembering and reflecting upon the film Selma I saw this past weekend with dear colleagues committed to the struggle. I recommend that everyone go see this film in theaters to communicate our support for such critical films being part of our social consciousness. The film is real and raw, and critical for us to see to remember our shared history.
We must remember that white America saw Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work as a “nuisance.” We must remember a president and a white power structure that kept asking MLK and the movement to “wait.” We must remember the movement said “no, now is our time.” It is a tool of the oppressor to ask those who do not have justice to wait until a more politically expedient or appropriate time. Those with power can wait for others to have it. We must also remember that the white power structure only took action when it could look good for them. The white power structure did not do it out of the goodness of their hearts, but instead because the press and public relations firestorm became too great.
I want to remember this because as a white woman I am continuously struck by the way we celebrate a pristine white-washed version of MLK and his work. MLK now has a monument in our nation’s capital, as he well deserves. We want to tell ourselves we were “good people” back then and we are “good people” now who celebrate him. But, if most of us were back there in the Civil Rights Movement, we might understand pieces of MLK’s work, but I’m certain we would be resisting it as “problematic” or pick it apart academically. We likely would not be the small segment of white people who took a bus down to Selma and walked across a bridge knowing that armed police stood at the other end.
I hope that we can remember MLK’s words that were discomforting for the white population, and I encourage us to look at where we find our discomfort today. I, as a minister in The United Methodist Church, am committed to working for and preaching on racial justice in all the spheres of which I am a part. Those with privilege sometimes tell me that church is supposed to be “comfortable” for them and that church is “their place” and by talking about racial justice I am taking away that space for them. The same happens when I talk about women’s rights, when I talk about LGBTQ justice, when I ask where the bathroom is for trans people. I hope that we will reflect this day and ask ourselves what is making us uncomfortable. Maybe that’s precisely where God is calling us to go. I hope we can move forward together remembering that we likely will trip and stumble as we work for justice, but the greatest sin is not moving at all.
written by Rev. Laura Rossbert, a United Methodist deacon and strong advocate for eradicating interlocking oppressions.