Once again, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has come around. Today, my mind has looked back on my experiences growing up. I’m white, and the truth is since I left Mississippi, I have lived in predominantly white communities. And when I say predominantly I mean 90% plus white majority. I didn’t plan it that way, it’s just the direction the Lord has taken my life. So remembering MLK and his legacy makes me think back to high school more than anything.
I don’t recall that our high school celebrated MLK’s holiday. In fact, to be honest, I remember more remarks about it being Robert E. Lee Day because his and King’s birthday were in such close proximity. There was all sorts of racist nonsense that would get said about MLK, which I won’t repeat here; not from our teachers, but from some of my fellow white students.
But I don’t want to only point out my white schoolmates, nor just single it out as a Mississippi problem. I’ve lived in two other states, Colorado and Missouri, and throughout my adult years, regardless of where I lived, the mention of MLK Day never fails to garner one or two shaking heads, or slightly off-color remarks, or even (a few times) mini-rants from the people conversing with me. I’ve met only a handful of truly hateful-toward-black-people individuals in my life, but I’ve known plenty who I would place in the category of blissfully unaffected people.
The blissfully unaffected are those who have lived in white homogeny for their entire lives. They’re not hateful toward people of other races, but they lack any understanding of the plights of minorities due to a lack of interaction. And unfortunately, the little exposure they have is mostly through stereotypes that get portrayed in entertainment. Therefore, they’re blissful in that they know little of the sorrow that many black people endure, and they’re unaffected because they have no substantial interaction with people of other races.
Hear me, I’m not sitting in judgment of anyone. If you have spent your life in white homogeny, it is what it is. I understand that you don’t hate black people. But here’s the bottom line: there’s a vast chasm between non-hatred and compassion. In fact, non-hatred is often just plain, old indifference. If it doesn’t affect me, why should I be bothered? Indifference and hatred may be different things, but the in the end they’re both on opposite ends of the spectrum from love and compassion.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
We must become a compassionate people if we ever hope to see justice served equally to all races. Indifference puts justice out of balance because if you’re indifferent about a group of people, when they suffer a wrong you won’t be nearly as interested in justice for them as you would be for your own people. I don’t see a lot of hatred, but I do see way too much indifference.
Indifference can be overcome through empathy. Empathizing simply means to understand and share in other people’s feelings. That takes time. It takes conversation. But more than anything, it takes effort; lots of effort. You won’t magically develop compassion for people that you haven’t intentionally sought out and fought to understand. I wrestle to understand as much as I can, and though my understanding is imperfect, I can at least say that I’m in the fight.
So on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, if you find yourself indifferent, I encourage you to ask the Lord to build compassion in your heart for your fellow black citizens. Not only citizens of this country, but more so as citizens of God’s kingdom. Befriend your black neighbors. Get to know them, and share life with them. Do the work of empathy. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) God loves justice. He wants his people to be doers of justice. Until you let God create a genuine compassion for all people within your heart, your sense of justice will suffer from imbalance.