Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.–Martin Luther King, Jr.
I like this image because in it King is not standing alone. I hate the thought of anyone having to fight such a big fight as the ongoing fight for civil rights alone.
I studied history in high school.
I studied history again in college.
It wasn’t until this past couple of years that I realized more deeply than ever before that this fight for civil rights we’ve read about for so many years is not nearly as over as we–sitting cozy in our white privilege–believed.
This month two years ago I found myself looking at images and headlines from the battles for civil rights battle for equal rights battle while wandering through the national archives.
Two things struck me:
One, I wondered, as I always do, where I would have stood on the side of history. Would I have had the courage to speak up and to write and to march for my brothers and sisters who were deeply persecuted, who did not enjoy the same rights I do?
Two, I realized for the first time that when I was a young girl entering my congregation’s Young Women’s organization women had barely earned the right to apply for a bank loan on their own credit standing–without a parent or husband’s co-signature.
This past couple of years I’ve been moved by so many stories. Particularly the stories of mothers who fear for their children’s lives every time they go out in public. It’s not as simple as “if you are obeying the law and do what you’re told, you won’t get hurt.” I think we tell ourselves that only because it makes us feel better.
While I’m mindful of the sacrifices police officers and their families make every single day in order to protect the peace and I’m careful to avoid making judgments without all the facts every time an African American is killed by a white cop, I’m not naive enough to believe that bias–conscious and unconscious–isn’t real and rampant in the world. That it doesn’t have significant and devastating effects on real people and their families every day (that’s a whole other post). And that some people are powerless against injustice.
And stories of African American journalists and other professionals who’ve been profiled and accosted in places they had every business to be, for no other reason than the color of their skin. Even just last week a friend tweeted how here in my very town a friend of theirs stepped out of a home where he was an invited guest in order to take a phone call and not one, but two different neighbors called to report him, simply for the color of his skin.
A couple of months ago I found myself stopped at a stoplight with a police officer stopped behind me. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. It was daylights so I wasn’t worried if perhaps I had a taillight out. But for a brief moment I felt a palpable fear. And I knew in my heart that there are people in this world–in my world–who feel this on a regular basis.
This past election cycle has brought so much of this into even sharper focus. As a moderate who could no longer tolerate the intolerance and lack of compassion of the party in which she was raised, I stood alone, in the middle, watching with dismay as my liberal friends slung hate and intolerance at my conservative friends and my conservative friends slung hate and intolerance at my liberal friends.
I make a hard, hard choice and voted my conscience against a hatred, misogyny, and bigotry I had hoped we were all beyond tolerating here in the 21st century and have had my integrity and my religious worthiness challenged as a result.
Now, more than ever, I believe Dr. King’s words are true.
Without love in our hearts, when we speak up for what we believe, people will not hear us for the hate.
If we are not willing to see the good in those whose different experiences cause them to see the world differently than we do, the light of the good that is in us will not shine.
We will not come closer together, find common ground, and move forward together by hate. But by love.
Truly in every circumstance in which I have found myself worried, confused, deeply wounded, or conflicted, the answer is always to find it in ourselves to love.
[Day 66 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]