Our Reluctancy to Follow Martin Luther King Jr

Taken from NewsOne

One of the best op-eds I’ve read concerning the Trayvon Martin murder (and make no mistake, it’s a murder) comes from AP writer Jesse Washington, titled, “Trayvon Martin, My Son, and the Black Male Code.”

Washington speaks about how every young black man must be on the look out when he’s by himself. When police confront him, he must be extra careful. When walking in a predominately white neighborhood, he must do all that he can to present himself as a non-threat. Why? Because more often than not his mere presence will look suspicious, which could lead to arrests or worse (especially in the tragic case of Trayvon Martin).

It’s safe to say that the Martin murder has helped to polarize our nation even further. On one side, we have people beginning to claim that Zimmerman was justified because he got into a scuffle with the young man. “Obviously, Martin got what was coming to him! He shouldn’t have fought!” But let’s reverse the roles here; Martin, who is black, is following Zimmerman, who is part white and part Hispanic. Zimmerman, fearful for why he’s being followed, begins to run. Martin follows. The two end up in a fight when Zimmerman decides to stand his ground and Martin ends up shooting Zimmerman in “self-defense.” How would the law and populace react there? The “self-defense” argument wouldn’t hold up because Martin had instigated it; besides, don’t we just expect young black males to case out their victims prior to robbing them?

And yet, because it was Zimmerman who hunted down Martin, because it was Zimmerman who chased Martin down, and because it was Martin who stood his ground and died for it, our first reaction is, “Well, he had every right to think that Martin was suspicious looking; he was wearing a hoody!” Hence the unfortunate and sickening necessity for the Black Male Code.

I agree with Washington that not all white people are this way, nor are all people period this way. Likewise, even for those that are, it doesn’t prove they are racist; merely that they’ve bought into certain social stereotypes. I know for myself this incident reminds me of my own reaction a few months ago, one that I’m ashamed of. As I was walking down the street, two young black males who had obviously just gotten out of school began to cross the street to the point where I was walking. My immediate thought was, “Are they going to try to rob me?” Now, to be fair, I’m a bit paranoid and having worked with teenagers I find it hard it trust any teenager, thus I’ve found myself thinking the same way when I see young white males with shaved heads. But the entire point is that my initial reaction isn’t indifference or a realization that they’re probably not going to rob me, but to fear them. Hence the unfortunate and sickening necessity for the Black Male Code.

Of course, as wrong as our society is to harbor these stereotypes, it doesn’t help when so-called “Black Leaders” help to enforce those stereotypes. When we have the New Black Panther party calling for the death of Zimmerman and the Nation of Islam doing the same, how far have we actually progressed as a society? If anything, when people call for such a thing and face no repercussions by our justice department, the oppressed have become the oppressors. We can think back to Mississippi in 1950 and imagine a black male killing a white male. Back then, people would have called for lynch mobs to kill the black male, especially if he escaped prosecution. We view such vigilante justice as abhorrent and racist; but we should view the modern calls for Zimmerman’s head as no less abhorrent and racist.

In short, our society has made great strides for racial equality, but has regressed significantly in the past few decades. The dream of Martin Luther King Jr, that all of us would be judged by the content of our character than the color of our skin, seems to be forgotten and empty on our current generation. Rather, it seems very much that we are still judged on our skin color; if you’re black and walking in a white neighborhood while wearing a hoodie, then you’re “suspicious.” If you’re white then you’re automatically a racist. If you’re black and commit a crime against a white person, then it’s “typical.” If you’re white and commit a crime against a black person, it’s a hate crime, regardless of your motive. In short, we’re still judged by how we look and not by who we are.

I’ve heard white people say, on multiple occasions, “Wow, he’s very articulate for a black man” or “Wow, he’s very intelligent for a black man.” Alternatively, I’ve heard black people say, “Wow, he’s very understanding for a white guy.” Thus, even when we do value the person’s character, we still do it in a racist manner; we’re shocked when someone of a different color than ourselves is actually upstanding and respectable.

It’s hard to see what the ultimate solution is other than sacrificial love. Short of viewing everyone in the way Christ views them, I don’t see how we can move beyond our racism. Short of helping one another out regardless of skin color, of desegregating our churches (the last bastion of segregation), of learning what it’s like to experience our society within one of our various sub-cultures, we cannot fix this problem. The early Church was composed of different races and cultures; it had high society Romans and Germanic Barbarians. It had the noblest of men and even their slaves. It had men and women. It had Europeans and Africans. Looking at the early Church Fathers we see black men (Athanasius was called “the black dwarf”), Arabs, Huns, Goths, Franks, and everything in between. Their unity wasn’t found in their skin color, nor was it found in abandoning what made their culture distinctive; what unified them was Christ and Christ alone. We should seek the same thing if for no other reason so that there are no more Trayvon Martins, no more Black Male Code, no more mobs against either race. Let us seek Christ so that we might one day judge one another on our character rather than our skin color.

An Open Letter to Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren recently wrote an open letter to President Obama concerning Afghanistan. Here is what he wrote:

I am a loyal supporter of your presidency. I worked hard in the campaign and have never been as proud of my country as I was when we elected you.

I’m writing to ask you to find another way ahead in Afghanistan. I wrote a similar letter to President Bush when he was preparing for war in Iraq.

I believe now, as you and I both did then, that war is not the answer. Violence breeds violence, and as Dr. King said, you can murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. As the apostle Paul said, evil must be overcome with good, which means that violence and hate must be overcome with justice and love, not more of the same.

Obviously, you know things the rest of us don’t know. And you have pressures and responsibilities the rest of us don’t have. But we have based our lives on the moral principles that guided leaders like Dr. King, Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela. We share a profound faith in a loving, non-violent God. We share a commitment to live in the way of Jesus the peacemaker. That’s why escalation is not a change we can believe in.

I don’t argue for leaving Afghanistan high and dry as we’ve done too often in the past. Evil can’t be overcome by passivity or abdication, but only by positive good and creative action. In that spirit, I offer this humble proposal:

1. Take the 65 billion we would have spent there in the coming year and turn it into an aid and development fund. If you want to go farther, you could put a value on the cost of American lives that would be lost there (I have no idea how this inestimable cost could be calculated), and add that sum to the fund. 65 billion could build a lot of peace-oriented schools and hospitals in Afghanistan. It could serve as start-up capital for a lot of new businesses and it could pave a lot of roads. It could train a lot of police officers and it could enhance a lot of social infrastructure. It could give hope to a lot of women and girls who currently don’t have much hope, and it could provide a lot of constructive outlets for men and boys who right now don’t have many options besides picking up a machine gun and joining a warlord.

2. Other nations might contribute to this fund as well, and the fund could be extended into the future based on the number of years our military would have been engaged in Afghanistan. The fund could be administered by the US, or better (in the spirit of international cooperation), an IAEC-like agency could be created, subsidiary to the United Nations, to monitor progress in Afghanistan.

3. Then a set of benchmarks could be set, and the money could be released for development in Afghanistan as the nation reached appropriate benchmarks. This fund would be an enticement to mobilize public opinion in the direction of peace and justice, as people would know that their lives could be substantially improved if their factionalized leaders would start collaborating nonviolently for the common good.

4. With this kind of approach, the people of Afghanistan (and Pakistan) would have two clear choices. Al Queda and other extremists offer violence and unrest. But the international community would be offering support for order, rebuilding, collaboration, justice, and peace. This choice is a much clearer and better one than the choice between two groups of leaders who both depend on violence to achieve their aims.

5. Conservatives could support this kind of approach because it emphasizes personal choice and responsibility among the Afghan people. It would come alongside them in their own nation-building efforts at their own best pace, rather than trying to impose our own nation-building on them at a pace we determine. Progressives could support this approach because it changes the role of the US in the global neighborhood – from reactive bully or intentional dominator to responsible neighbor and partner for the common good.

Mr. President, you have my respect and my prayers at this important time. I believe you have the intelligence and insight to find a creative way to use a new kind of force in the world … something far more powerful than bombs, guns, and bullets: the generative force of creativity, of justice, of collaboration, and yes, of hope. Can we find a new and better way to help Afghanistan rise out of chaos and complicity with Al Queda? You know the answer many of us will shout and chant: yes, we can.

With respect and hope,
A citizen

Here, as a reply, is my open letter to McLaren (which he did receive):

Mr. McLaren,

The war in Afghanistan isn’t about a “global American empire.” Unless America plans to legalize the wholesale production and consumption of opium, Afghanistan really doesn’t have a lot to offer the “American Empire.” What worries me about your posts as of late is they have a hint of utopianism, which is generally a deadly philosophy (as it often leads to the exact opposite of Utopia). I agree that peace should be our first pursuit in all conflicts, but when dealing with people who hold to an evil ideology (Germany in WWII, the Taliban today), it is quite impossible to hold peace talks without giving concessions to certain liberties and rights.

Should we seek peace with the Taliban knowing full well they will kill women for showing the slightest bit of skin or place their people under tyranny? Though we should be promoting peace project in Afghanistan in order to win the people over and get them to see that liberty is beneficial, I think it’s a pipe dream to think that the Taliban will willingly go along with such changes. There is evil in this world. There are people dedicated to evil in this world. No matter what we do, those people will promote the cause of evil. Sad as it is, we must sometimes engage in violent acts against those people so as to turn the tide.

Ghandi, MLK, and others were able to succeed because they rose up against ethical people who realized the mass murder of citizens was immoral. MLK could rise up against an unjust system because he knew the system wouldn’t send him and others to a death camp. Ghandi had the same luxury. Bonhoffer didn’t; he rose up against Nazi Germany and was killed for it. No number of pacifist movements could have stopped Nazi Germany (in fact, none came close). What stopped the tyranny in Germany was justifiable war. This is sad, but that is the reality of our world.

Utopianism is what allows tyrannies to continue. Utopianism is allows evil men to rule over the good. Utopianism is what got six million of my people killed because no one would step up to the plate and fight. And if we continue to buy into this utopian effort, a disgusting leftover from modernity, our culture is likewise doomed.

I ask you, Mr. McLaren, to reconsider your philosophy on this matter and to heavily reconsider your theology. Realize the Biblical narrative about the world being fallen and that we have to act within the fallen world is a true narrative – not something to play fast and loose with. Realize that redemption for the world does not come through improving society or doing good things (though we are called to do these), but ultimately comes from the Cross. Realize that your idea of utopia will never occur until every knee has bowed and every tongue has confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord.


Joel Borofsky