2015 is the 50th anniversary of the three Selma to Montgomery marches led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These climactic moments in the Civil Rights Movement are now something that happened a long time ago. They are in our kids’ history books alongside the Kennedy assassinations and the Vietnam War. In recent years, though, race has reemerged as a major issue in American society. The truth is that it’s always been simmering beneath the surface and we’re just now returning to a more public conversation.
Protests over the killing of the unarmed Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and others have caught the attention of the nation and galvanized the Black community and others toward much discussion and debate.
Race relations may not seem to be much of a concern in Hingham or this part of the South Shore. We are, for the most part, monochromatic. However, I believe it would be a terrible mistake to ignore this issue or think of it as someone else’s problem.
What about the few people of color who do live here, work here, or visit? What about the students from Boston who attend Hingham schools? What do they experience when they come here? And what about the children who are being raised here, but will, as adults, move to parts of the country where there is a healthier racial mix? Will they be prepared to share life with folks who look different from them and who have diverse histories?
Starbucks has received praise, skepticism, and outright criticism for its Race Together initiative. Whether you think it was a cynical marketing ploy or a well-intentioned effort to make a difference, at least they are getting us talking.
Do you discuss race with your family members, your friends, or your coworkers? Has your book club or religious organization invited you into conversation about race recently? Do you chat about it online? Post articles? Tweet about it? Why or why not? What is it that we are afraid of or squeamish about?
Occasionally, I hear people make sweeping, dismissive comments about people of color. I have heard statements like, “People should just obey the law and everything will be fine!” In reality, the racial divide in our country is much deeper and more complicated than a simple matter of obedience. On the other hand, I have heard people say things about the police that betray a lack of knowledge about what it is like to enforce the law. Instead of judging, let us be open to change within ourselves and within all of our society’s systems.
I believe that only way we will get at the true issues and make progress is to ask questions and really listen to the answers. We cannot make assumptions. Just because we do not see a lot of overt racism in our region does not mean that the subtler forms do not exist. When is the last time you asked a person of color what it is like to work, shop, drive, raise children – in other words, to function normally — as a member of a minority racial group? I have done so much too rarely. As a person of faith, I feel called to do a better job of loving my neighbor. Will you join me?