For White People on MLK Day

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

Easily one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am not one to subscribe to the mainstream, but this quote from a sermon MLK delivered in 1957 captures me. It resonates with me deeply.

Yet, a fufu, feel-good quote is not enough.

“I would have never owned slaves.”
“I would have never lynched a black person.”
“I would have been protesting with Martin Luther King.”
“I would have never been as bad as the people 50 years ago.”

Is that really true? The fact for white people is, “Yes, we would have.” Whiteness is not an individual; it is a system, an idea and both a conscious and unconscious supremacist construct that has been perpetuated over centuries. The idea you wouldn’t have done “those things” means nothing when personal white identity is still reflected in a system of whiteness we benefit from.

Our intentions are not enough.

I am tired.

I am tired of people who “don’t see color.”
As if the black experience is so insignificant we cannot see it for what it is.

I am tired of people saying “Martin Luther King wouldn’t have done that today.”
As if white people think we can do racial justice better than black people can.

I am tired of people who are annoyed by the “counterproductive tone” from social justice activists.
As if MLK didn’t have said “counterproductive tone” and centuries of oppression also means suppression of emotion.

I am tired of people who clap back at those who are calling out racism.
As if maintaining our power is more important than people who care deeply about injustice.

I am tired of people defending respect for a president who has no respect for the marginalized experience.
As if the title of an office is more important than the character of the person who represents it.

I am tired of people who think “working hard” will pull somebody out of oppression.
As if historical segregation and generational trauma never existed, and racial oppression magically ceases to exist when a person of color enters into a higher socioeconomic status.

I am tired of people labeling their farmhands as the Mexicans, rather than employees.
As if white people prefer to be called the whites, rather than employees.

I am tired of white men taking up space in meetings and not yielding it to women of color.
As if whiteness and maleness means our voice is the most important.

I am tired of people who “don’t do politics.”
As if politics don’t affect the daily lives of real people, particularly marginalized people.

I am tired of white people saying “I hear you!!!” to people of color and then defending white people’s actions in the same breath.
As if people of color haven’t already been operating in a system of whiteness and heard the white person’s voice their entire life.

I am tired of people who see racism, yet remain silent and complacent.
As if being comfortable and maintaining status is more important than disrupting whiteness.

I am tired of people who keep saying things are so much better than 50 years ago.
As if Bree Newsome didn’t climb the South Carolina State House to tear down a Confederate flag less than four years ago.

I am tired of people who ask why we cannot all just get along.
As if the beliefs of half of the United States are a difference in "opinion," rather than an oppression of entire groups of people's humanity.

I am tired of people not listening to people of color.
As if a white, cisgender male blogger can speak more to the person of color’s experience than people of color themselves.

I am tired of people who seem to care, but as soon as they are called out, it is war.

I am tired of this system that just keeps perpetuating itself.

I am tired of people who just don’t get it, including myself.

The fact remains. I am white, and I was one of these people. I STILL am one of them. We (all white people) are one of them, and we need to figure out how to get it. Whiteness doesn’t disappear.

I am not sure if white people are allowed to be tired of racism, so I should say, I am tired of myself and the system I perpetuate and benefit from. This exhaustion is barely even a glimpse into the lives of people of color, especially activists and public figures, who are doing the work of justice every day.

Being tired is not enough.

Sharing a quote, having good intentions and being tired is not enough. We have to go beyond the fufu, feel-good MLK quote, know what the man actually represented, and disrupt racism in our everyday lives.

Let’s remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for who he was, not the reduced and white-washed version we see from the dominant narrative on MLK Day. Let's remember how he advocated for a universal basic income, condemned capitalism built on the backs of enslaved black and brown people, and saw the white moderate as an equal threat to racial justice as the Ku Klux Klan. The man didn’t just believe in nonviolence; he believed in nonviolent protest. Dr. King criticized the white church and believed the time was *always* right to protest what is right. He labeled himself as an extremist and was often controversial even within communities of color. Dr. King was radical, and yet, being radical is somehow more than we can handle.

If you are white, I am not here to shame us; this is for us to take ownership of our whiteness. I am tied up in the same system of whiteness we are all tied up in. We try to escape it, but we cannot.

What happened during the Civil Rights Movement and what is happening today is not just liberation for black and brown people. This movement is for all of us. When we liberate our kin of color, white people vicariously become free as well.

White people, it is time for us to figure out our whiteness.

Share the quote, but also, do the work. Not tomorrow -- we need it today. Happy MLK Day.

*Please note most of these thoughts are what I have heard from many voices of color in my own journey. I am only attempting to give voice to them in a space where people seemingly haven’t heard or resonated with them before.