“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This is a phrase many of us have heard before and I reference it here with regard to our nation’s history of honoring and celebrating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Some of us can remember – although I am sure it is becoming a fading memory – the struggle that it took to pass legislation to make Dr. King’s birthday a holiday. To honor such a great man who paid with his life for speaking truth to power is commonplace today and most people today have positive feelings towards MLK. However, it was hell to pass the legislation in Congress for President Ronald Reagan to sign into law on 1 November 1983.
It was not until the year 2000 that every state observed the holiday. Just because it was law did not mean, of course, that everyone observed it. Several states, in fact, combined MLK Day with Robert E. Lee Day (who was born on 19 January). Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi continue to combine these two occasions in 2023.
Sadly, “coming out of the closet” as a person condoning bigoty and racism is coming back into style.
We cannot afford to allow #BLM to become a faded memory. The Black Lives Matter Movement IS the next chapter in our nation’s Civil Rights Movement for racial justice.
But don’t ALL Lives Matter? Of course they do and focusing on Black Lives does not negate other lives. A good comparison would be if someone disrupted a march for Breast Cancer awareness saying, “Prostate Cancer Matters and All Cancer Matters!” These are true statements, and it is also true that women’s health wasn’t receiving the same attention as men’s health. This attention led to action that has led to increased health check-ups and necessary treatments.
All lives matter and, yes, there are plenty of oppressed categories of people, but when one is committed to learn from history, then one must acknowledge that Black lives have not mattered. In fact, Black lives continue to be systematically targeted for oppression, segregation, and termination.
Anita Pointer of the Pointer Sisters died on 31 December 2022. In an interview with her sisters several years ago she spoke about their shared love for country music; in fact, the Pointer Sisters had recorded an album of country music. It was never released, however, because they were told that it was important “to keep country country!”
While it is easy to point fingers at the overt racism of former President Trump or the blatant bigotry of Ron DeSantis, Florida’s current governor, what is often overlooked is the subtle discrimination and bias that goes unchecked by those who allow racial justice to take a backseat to other progressive issues.
And so I pose this question: are you are tourist in your own city? A tourist is someone who only wants to see only the clean and polished areas and avoid those places that are gritty because they don’t want to feel uncomfortable. Dealing with issues of racism and racial justice are gritty experiences, and we must be committed to asking if our organization, our school, our congregation, and/or our family are avoiding the gritty work of advancing racial justice.
#BLM is more than a fashion statement to be worn on a shirt or a sign in the window or a placard at a rally. It is a movement that demonstrates a genuine commitment to racial justice and this work is not done until it makes real in all areas of our society, including in our own areas of influence.
We need to learn the lessons from the Abolitionist Era, the Civil Rights Era, and the Black Lives Matter Era. During this February, Black History Month, let us join together to build a land of racial justice so that we can be citizens of a world in which Black Lives Matter. Let us leave behind the pretend status of tourists who ignore the gritty realities of injustice that make us feel uncomfortable.
Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow (MDiv 2006, DMin 2016), is the Managing Director for PSR’s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church Detroit
This post originally appeared on CLGS.org