Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Why We Can’t Wait” still speaks to the post–civil rights black community. Racist signs in the windows have come down, but there are still places we are not welcome. The dogs and the hoses aren’t that popular anymore. We don’t fear those in white sheets as much as we fear those with blue uniforms.
Walter Scott’s death is one of numerous of unarmed black males killed by the police. The case of his shooting ended with the judge declaring it a mistrial. Another life is gone, and no one held liable. How do King’s words speak to us today?
People frequently say in cases like Scott’s we must wait for the details. King writes:
“when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”
“Nobodiness” is why the Black Lives Matter movement exists because we feel as if our people are nobodies. We are dying in the streets while the shooters walk away unscathed. For example, in New Orleans Joe McKnight died in the streets. The shooter spent 24 hours in jail, released, and then charged. Mcknight’s life appeared not to be worth over 24 hours in jail. It was as if he didn’t murder a brother, uncle, or cousin. It is as if he murdered a nobody. King also writes: “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “Wait.”” It is easy to say “wait” when you and your people are not being attacked.
Silence Makes A Statement
“The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of good people” (MLK)
Throughout history, numerous churches have been quiet about racial issues. Their pro-life statements didn’t extend to the black males shot in their cities. Educational and economic racial disparities weren’t discussed in their mission strategies. Mission organizations learned enough to empathize with those in Africa but not those across tracks. The same is often true now. Silence says these are not my concerns. Silence implies I will let someone else talk about that. Silence means I don’t care. Shame on us if we are silent when our brother and sisters need our voices. We must repent of the silence of Christians.
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” (MLK)
It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city‘s white power structure left the Negro with no alternative” (MLK)
What are our options to responding to racial matters? How should we respond Scott’s mistrial or injustice? King acknowledges we don’t have that many options that get the majority to listen. Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem. Bilal Powell wears cleats about gun violence. Beyonce performs “Formation” at the Superbowl These are examples of utilizing our options. This is why you have the Black Lives Matter non-violent protest. Trevor Noah asks, “What is the right way?”
People kneel during the anthem and they are told to leave the country. They protest and they are whiners. What are the right methods?
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens’ Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the presence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct actions”; who is paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
“Solutions to the complex plight of the Negro will not be easy. This does not signify that they are impossible.” (MLK)
The issues that African-Americans face are difficult to solve, but they are not hopeless. There is not a 3-step process to fix America overnight. Finding solutions begins with awareness, confession, and action.
“It is impossible to create a formula for the future which does not take into account that our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years. How then can he be absorbed into the mainstreams of American life if we do not do something special for him now, in order to balance the equation and equip him to compete on a just and equal basis?” (MLK)
“God’s companionship does not stop at the door of the jail cell.” (MLK)
African-Americans have a history of oppression. We have been a people who have depended on God to deliver us from oppression. The slaves believed God would free them. Those under the yoke of Jim crow believed God would bring justice. They never believed God left them during the beatings, hoses, verbal abuse, and injustice. God didn’t leave King when he was sitting in solitary confinement. Immanuel was still with him.
God is still with us. This why Judy Scott confidently proclaims the power of God in light of her son’s mistrial. God’s companionship has not left us in injustice. We should remember God’s presence and role in the fight for justice.