This past weekend, I attended two events in New Rochelle celebrating the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In case you are interested, here are the brief remarks I delivered, drawing upon themes from an earlier post on racial justice.
It is a pleasure and an honor to be with you today. This is an especially timely gathering this year, because, in recent months, all across our country, there has been a great discussion about racial justice and racial equality – with respect to law enforcement, and, in truth, with respect to every facet of American life.
The discussion has sometimes been difficult, or tense, or uncomfortable – and that’s okay, because there are moments when it is more important to be honest with each other than to pretend everything is fine.
But it seems to me that there are a handful of voices, who have made it their purpose to pull us into opposite corners, where all we can do is yell at each other from afar – and that’s not okay. That is something to be resisted.
Instead, we should be trying as hard as we can to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and imagine what the world looks like from where they stand.
You don’t have to be a Police officer to recognize that Policing is hard work, dangerous work, work that’s vital to every single one of us, and that deserves our support.
At the same time, you don’t have to be the victim of discrimination to recognize that discrimination is alive and well in America in 2015. You just have to count.
I can count to 4. Black children are 4 times more likely to attend schools with under-qualified teachers.
I can count to 6. Black men are 6 times more likely to be in jail.
I can count to 72. The median income of the typical white household is 72% higher than the typical black household.
I can count to 300. Black students are suspended or expelled at 300% the rate of white students.
And what makes this so tricky is that very often we are not even aware of our own biases. You can abhor bigotry in all its forms, believe deeply in civil rights, attend events like this one, and yet still unknowingly take actions or make decisions that contribute subtly to racial division.
We all go around thinking “I’m not the problem; someone else is the problem.” We’re certain of it.
Well, you know the old saying: “it’s not what they don’t know that worries me; it’s what they know for sure that just ain’t so.” This is everybody’s problem.
So there are no easy answers. But I think it begins with each of us being a little less sure of ourselves and a little more humble in the face of our own imperfections.
And yet also hopeful that together we can be greater than the sum of our parts. And find our way forward to the beloved community for which Dr. King lived and died.