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My New Year’s Resolution: Don’t be a white moderate

My New Year’s Resolution: Don’t be a white moderate January 5, 2016

Reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (spiritual read-a-long guide here) blew my mind. As one member of the group said, it disturbed me. I knew the facts before reading this book–in fact, I even wrote about them, right here on this blog–but I didn’t know the facts.The New Jim Crow

Here are the facts:

Mass incarceration is a system of social control. Why? It locks up a third of some black communities, up to a half of others. In 2009, less than 10% of all federal prisoners had been convicted of a violent crime–and in most cities, only 25% of court cases are against violent offenders. That means that a majority of prisoners are locked up for things that are legal in the state of Washington, things that perhaps you yourself have done. Drug use is no more common in black communities than in white communities (if you’re white, think about the drug use in your own community. Do you know anyone in prison?). Yet in black communities, men are routinely sent to prison for decades for things that in other countries do not warrant a sentence.

I used to think, This is unfortunate. But there is nothing I can do. Those communities–black communities–suffer from problems I can’t even begin to understand.

But here’s another fact: when you control for poverty, the rates of violence in black and white communities are the same.

The fact that this fact is what showed me I had been thinking wrong is embarrassing. It’s much worse than embarrassing; it’s incriminating. I thought that there was something wrong with black people, something that made them more violent. There is not. As my mom always taught me, people are people. There is something wrong with our society: it cuts a group of people out of it.

So this year, my New Year’s resolution is to not be a white moderate.

Martin Luther King, Jr., writes in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that the most dangerous element of society to people of color is not the white supremacist but the white moderate. In his words:

…I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

This paragraph has stuck with me since I read it with my students at UNH as a teaching assistant. And I’m still struggling with how not to be a white moderate–how to help the #blacklivesmatter movement, how to be a force for good rather than a passive force for evil.

Here’s what I’ve come up with. Here’s how I’m going to start.

It’s a short list, but it’s a start. I hope to use this blog as a platform for others more eloquent and important than me to share how we, as progressive Christians, can keep from becoming white moderates.

Thanks for listening and happy New Year.


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