Today I came across these words:
“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in [this city]. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in [this city] at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Black community with no other alternative.”
They rocked me back in my chair.
Why? Well, for one thing, they concisely put into words what I have been trying to say since the demonstrations began. (I envy the way some people can express their thoughts so clearly, while I struggle to get mine out.) But to the point, the demonstrations — and the violence that has been directly or tangentially connected to them — have caused some to vent their unbridled outrage for the isolated yet terrible acts of violence and lawlessness. Yet if they spent even a tiny fraction of that outrage toward ending the underlying racism, we would be a lot farther along the way towards correcting the racial injustice that is rotting the core of this country.
But the main reason that these words struck me so hard was that they were written almost 60 years ago, in 1963, during another time of violence and civil unrest, by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. They are from his Letter from Birmingham Jail, which you can, and should, read here.
We’ve made absolutely no progress in this country. The conversation is exactly the same. The tactics of deflection of those who want to prevent progress are exactly the same. The underlying causes that created the unrest have not changed.
In many respects the world today looks nothing like the world of 1963. Today we have self-driving cars, instant communication, ubiquitous smart phones, unfathomable connectivity, rockets to the International Space Station, Donald Trump, and a world-wide pandemic. And yet when you look at what really matters, you can’t help but notice that the more things change the more they stay the same.