I understand that I will never understand. However, I stand.

 Martin Luther King JR., the march on Washington, 1963

August 2, 2020

Following the horrendous murdering of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the worldwide circulation of videos and images on social media showing how he died under the knee of that police officer and the social unrest and violence that erupted in cities of the United States, white people have somehow woken up to the injustice that black people go through on a daily basis, hours per day, days per year, years and decades since the proclamation of emancipation by president Abraham Lincoln January 1st 1863. Masses of white people are finally showing interest and appreciation. They finally realize that every black person deserves to be treated with respect, decency and compassion and that these are not privileges. The deeply-rooted racism will not change until white people understand what white privileges are, how they benefit from it and what they can do to eradicate it. Racism is structural. It runs through the core of white people’s mentality and functioning. Until white people do something about it, racism will never end. 

When white people post a solid black image on their social media page, it shows a want to change and a want to trigger a change in others like them. At the same time, they hesitate to be vocal about it, worrying they might miscommunicate, for fear of not knowing what they can do. They may have good intention but at the same time not knowing what to say or do, does not help bring change. The real change begins at home. White people should not think of themselves as an ally of black people, because an ally is only a partner for a defined period of time. They should instead think of themselves as comrades and that we are all in this together for as long as we do not become one. 

There is always a price to pay for truth-telling. Martin Luther King JR. was willing to sacrifice himself for the rest of the black community and that’s a  deep radical empathy. That’s a deep rich kind of love and such love is not born overnight. It’s a feeling that has been brewing for decades of hearing testimonials, of seeing injustices, of being segregated and the frustration of not having a voice to make it right. When black people were growing up in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and up to now and their parents were telling them that they should never feel that they were less than anybody else, that they were somebody and as good as anybody else. Maybe white people tell their kids the same exact words, but the purport behind those words are hugely contrasted. Black and white people say the same thing but with different meaning. For the black people, those words carry a different weight, loaded with experience of discrimination, racism, inequality, harassment, injustice, unjustified imprisonment, lost of lives, extreme poverty and the horrible list goes on and on and on. 

1955, the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama; Black people standing-up crowded at the back while the front half of the bus is almost empty, except for a few white people each occupying a double-seat. Black people would get on the bus at the front, put their coins in the container, get off the bus and go around to the back to get on the bus again. The front of the bus was reserved for white people and black people were not allowed to walk through. It was a very demeaning experience to ride on the bus.   

Segregation was everywhere; even the water fountain was divided. There were water taps for white people and water taps for black people.  

May 1961, the Freedom Rides – The purpose was to desegregate interstate travel. The United States Supreme Court had ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. However the Southern States ignored the rulings and the federal government turned a blind eye on it. The Freedom Rides were supposed to be between Washington and New Orleans. When the buses got to Birmingham, white mobs attacked them. In Montgomery, buses were bombed and freedom riders were beaten violently.  These are the kind of events that white people have to research and discuss in order to understand some of the awful miseries black people went through. When Dr. King was arrested and put in jail in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, he wrote a letter responding to an article in the local newspaper. That letter became known as The Letter from the Birmingham Jail, dated June 12th 1963. Some civil rights activists refer to this letter as the twentieth century most important social justice manifesto.  That letter however did not have immediate impact but when Dr. King came out of jail, it was a great learning experience for him that would shape the future of the civil rights movement. 

He came up with the smart strategy of working with people who have been working with young adults in high school. Not long after, a river of young people arrived at 16th Street Baptist church. They were marching peacefully while white policemen wearing guns and sticks were observing them. Someone in the crowd started singing “We are not afraid” and they all started dancing with big smiles on their faces.  

They got arrested. The jails were filled and the city was frustrated. The sheriff realized that he could not put them in jail anymore and had to come up with something to deter  them. They arrived with police dogs and fire hoses. The force of the water was strong enough to knock the barks off the trees and sent children flying meters away. Blouses were torn, skins were broken. “Spray them niggas so they won’t have to take a bath”, they shouted.

If the water hoses were not enough to disperse the crowd, the police would unleash the dogs, “Get them niggas, get them niggas.” 

Without Birmingham, there would be no march on Washington, there would be no Civil Rights Act, there would be no Voting Rights Act, there would be no Barack Obama and there would be no “I have a dream” speech. Dr King would not be on the cover of Time Magazine as the “Man of the year”. He would not have won the Nobel peace prize. The Birmingham campaign stimulated protests, mass rallies, hundred thousand people in Detroit, demonstrations in Chicago. At that point, people from the Justice department get on the phone and say president Kennedy wants to introduce civil rights legislation.  Without Birmingham, history reads very differently. The march on Washington, on August 28th 1963, was a bi-racial movement and Dr. King that day predicted that this march would go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of The United States. And it did, as it paved the way for future bi-racial demonstrations. On that day when Dr. King gave the “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he did not speak a single word about voting rights. His vision was way bigger than black people getting the right to vote. Racism and injustice run deeper than just the right to vote. Few months after that speech, on November 22nd 1963, president Kennedy was assassinated. Two years later on August 6th 1965, president Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. President Lincoln proclaimed slaves free on June 19th 1865 and it took 100 years for black people to get a taste of democracy with the Voting Rights law in 1965. ONE HUNDRED YEARS. Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, Washington, that’s the process of change from 1865 to 1965. People love the idea of change more than they love the process of change. Now when white people say “However, I stand”, I wonder what the word “stand” mean for them? Do they stand for the process of change, or do they stand for the idea of change? 

“I have a dream…” Dr. King at the march on Washington, August 28th 1963

 Sources: Internet, Documentaries

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