Rachel Held Evans is much cooler than I am.
I don’t say that in jest, or sarcastically, or in any way other than true admiration (and a small bit of jealousy.) RHE has been publishing really stellar posts since she was… in the womb, probably. She’s really the reason that I started in the Christian blogosphere. In fact, if they are talking about early millenial Christian writing 50 years from now – when they’re reading RHE, Benjamin Corey, Sarah Bessey, and John Pavlovitz in churches and seminary classrooms – I just hope to be in the “Also Ran” category of Christian blogging of the decade.
Granted, you don’t get into Internet blogging – especially Christian blogging – for the money, fame, or beautiful women. You start writing a blog because you have always written stuff, and suddenly there’s a gigantic bullhorn called the Internet where you can post the stuff that you write. So, you get a website, you start pounding out posts, maybe you take a six month break and reevaluate your commitment to blogging… but, it’s always about the message, the ideas, not who reads them.
The problem is that you have days like today. Today is MLK Day in the United States. And, while I personally love this day, and observe it as thoughtfully as I can, every blogger in the known universe has a post today.
And, as usual, RHE has said it better than me.
When I saw that she had posted, and the title of her post, I resisted reading it. I hadn’t decided if I was going to post anything today, and I didn’t want to be swayed by her elegant prose and incisive commentary – as I was pretty sure that my idea for an MLK post would be almost exactly the same as hers.
Which it was. Only she said it better.
Last year, at this time, I wrote a post about MLK and Chris Kyle, which was a post that I really wanted to write. It felt like it was really from my heart, because I think I’m at my best when I’m writing about issues relating to war and violence.
This year? I feel like my heart is full of things to say, and yet so, so weary. I think the reason that I struggled with whether or not to write this post is less because my blogging heroes will say it better, and more because I am really afraid that none of these posts are going to matter one bit. Because in January of 2015, we all wrote about MLK Jr., while in the midst of the ongoing struggle in Ferguson. And, before even six months had passed, we were all writing about Eric Garner. And then the tragedy of Freddie Gray and a neighborhood in Baltimore. Then, a horrific hate crime at Emmanuel AME in Charleston.
Confederate flags. Sandra Bland. Samuel Dubose.
The list was endless.
We wrote. We cried out in the wilderness. And nothing changed.
Today, we’re living in the moment of Donald Trump, a walking joke that has turned into a living nightmare. As Mrs. Evans mentioned in her post, a candidate supported by white supremacist groups – a candidate who has risen to prominence by saying the most heinous, racist, and unjust things imaginable – is speaking at an MLK event at Liberty University, a university founded by a religious leader who rose to prominence by saying the most heinous, racist, and unjust things imaginable.
No irony here, folks. Move along.
We seem to have reached a point in our national history in which our capacity for self-criticism has reached such staggering depths that we are beginning to look like a parody of ourselves. Real news is starting to read like satire. Presidential politics plays like a farce.
And Christian blogging, our so-called “prophetic voice,” feels like an exercise in futility.
I mean, I saw a meme a couple of weeks ago – originating with Ted Nugent – that featured a picture of Rosa Parks with the words, “Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. But, she didn’t tear up the bus.”
We have made such an utter joke of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – and his contemporaries in the Civil Rights Movement – that a white kid from Texas writing about him today just seems… insincere? Insulting?
I know that it makes me feel amazingly self-conscious, and ridiculously self-critical. I grew up around family members who advocated “George Wallace Day” every year at this time. I have family members today who spew bile and hatred towards Black Lives Matter, who considered the shooting of Michael Brown to be just, who defended the cops who shot Tamir Rice. I love these people. I respect most of their opinions and insights. But, as I try to write a meaningful post on MLK Day, I can’t help but realize that I am part of that legacy. No matter how fast or how far I try to run from it, I am part of that community. I am part of the culture that beat the living sh*t out of marchers in Selma, who shouted at Ruby Bridges, who killed Dr. King.
So, when I write about Dr. King, when I think about a post that might give meaningful tribute to a man that I have been truly and deeply inspired by, I can’t help but feel a little disingenuous, a little bit like I’m co-opting a hero of the community of People of Color for my own purposes. I admire people like RHE and others who are willing to continue entering this fray, who are determined to be effective and sensitive white allies, who are internalizing the message of Dr. King and trying to preach it to those in the white world who don’t quite get it.
But, I’m having a hard time being one of them today, because all I can think about is how we’re the faces of white moderates who called for unity while Dr. King was in a Birmingham jail. All I can think is that we’re those white faces that abandoned our support of #BlackLivesMatter in droves when two women dared to interrupt a Bernie Sanders rally. We love Dr. King when he presents himself gently, when his oratory calls for unity and peace.
We’re not quite as fond of him when he appears in a disruptive, disorderly manner. We don’t like him when he interrupts us, when he calls us to self-criticism, when he demands that we repent and feel just a little bit of guilt for our sins and the sins of our fathers. We’re not crazy about him when he feels sympathy for rioters, when he speaks against the military-industrial complex, when he becomes what we stereotype as the “angry black man.”
So, I wasn’t sure about posting today, and I’ve now written close to 1200 words. Which, interestingly enough, makes me feel even more self-conscious and self-critical.
Let me end this by getting, finally, to the point. Here’s what I would like to say about Dr. King.
I’m sorry that his dream has yet to be realized, and that injustice and racism still rules the day. I’m sorry that I felt too tired and weary in my soul to write anything meaningful, when the black community is even more tired and weary from being the actual victims of injustice. I’m sorry that I have far too much of the white moderate in me, and that I have a hard time speaking to the legacy of racism and injustice in my own community. I’m sorry that we killed Dr. King, and that we continue to kill and defame black men, women, and children. I’m sorry that we have lost our capacity to understand, to look inward, to criticize and change what we see.
But, as I read what others have to say today, I have a little bit of hope. Maybe this is the year that we actually get it. Maybe this is the year that we’ll really understand every facet of the man that we honor today, that we’ll realize everything that he was trying to teach us. Maybe this is the year that we’ll actually listen to the black voices that are crying out for justice, and the white Christian blogging community can stop our very well-intentioned whitesplaining.
Michael Brian Woywood
PS – Here’s a fantastic article that I saw first thing this morning. It really set the tone for me today.