The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was shot one day after my sixth birthday.
I easily remember the friends who came to that birthday party, I remember playing in the hay mow with them and sitting with them for lunch, cake and my gifts. But I do not remember a national leader who died that same week. My sister was about that same age when JFK was assassinated, she remembers it well because of how the adults around her reacted.
I don’t think the adults in my rural Iowa community reacted much when King was assassinated.
In fact I went on to see that at that time most in my community and church believed that he was a trouble maker, an agitator, even a communist. Those were common beliefs in 1968 white America, my home community was not unique in their disdain for the Reverend Doctor. But today, thankfully, across the USA this hostility has shifted to celebration.
Yet often that celebration is shallow, I saw this in recent years, while working on staff at a local private University. Every year they prided themselves on how many staff, faculty and students they would take to the MLK Breakfast at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It was a good place to be seen, if you wanted people to think you were an inclusive and welcoming school, rather than one that struggled to rid themselves of racism.
However for an institution to rid itself of white supremacy, which permeates all of our society, being part of a breakfast club is not enough.
To become a truly inclusive, welcoming, multi-cultural, beloved community requires a sacrifice from those in the dominate culture, and a separation from the dominate culture.
Whites in Montgomery Alabama learned they had to sacrifice having all the front seats of the bus saved for them. In Birmingham Alabama they had to sacrifice having lunch counters all to themselves. The university, where I worked, was struggling to see why they should sacrifice. They were happy with things as they were; the traditions of students, the songs in their chapels and radio, and even their curriculum and theological perspectives. Why should they sacrifice comfort and control? Dismantling the racist structures around us requires not only a change in laws, or a change of the faces in the yearbook. It requires a change of heart; from hostile to welcoming.
Building the beloved community requires a shift from othering and excluding to sheltering and including. Yes, to some extent White America has had a change of heart about Rev. Martin Luther King. Publicly our nation is welcoming to his words and images, yet much of his message, the challenge for true equality, has been scrubbed from our public consciousness.
We stand at a place where it appears much of White America, have said “enough” to the welcome, sheltering and sacrifice.
My fellow white Americans voted to “Make America Great Again” which, when we consider our history, can only mean a return to when whites had more control and little need to sacrifice. Our next President has modeled hostility to any who question his power and wealth, he models a resistance to sacrifice for the benefit of the community, and he demonstrates a lack of appreciation for the perspectives, strength, and beauty found in the African-American, Latino, Native-American, and Muslim communities to name a few. I know, not all who voted for president Trump share these views, but at what time will these push back against this narrative?
Over the next years I fear that in the shadow of a public disdain for people not of the dominate culture, even good intentioned white Americans will grow weary, and fail to make the sacrifices needed to be a welcome in an increasingly hostile climate. In the absence of a welcome, control and fear will grow, and our divisions will become more profound and could imperil our mutual survival.
If we believe the Dream of Martin Luther King; the Beloved Community where we live, play and work together; we must rise up in love and non-violence resistance to messages of hate, self-centeredness, and hostility.
The Beloved Community is ours to create or destroy in this time. Sacrifice has always been the key to love and life, but we must be consistent and “not grow weary in well doing.”