In Dr. King’s breathtaking “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” he lamented the posture of white clergy towards the Negro liberation movement in Alabama. White people felt like the protests lead by Civil Rights leaders were unwise and ill-timed. If you’ve never read the letter, I highly recommend you do. If you’ve read it before, might I suggest you take another look at it as we approach MLK Day on Monday?
Dr. King highlighted one group of people, in particular, with which he had grown more and more frustrated. He said this group of people were more of a threat to the full liberation of black people than any white supremacist hate group. He was more disturbed by these people than even the Ku Klux Klan.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s 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 absence 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 action”; who 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.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Being an advocate for social change today doesn’t require what it once did. Marches and sit-ins are no longer the only way to show that you support the cause of black people demanded equality. As a result, the new white moderate can hide in plain sight. They can hide because of all the access to wokeness social media gives us.
We live in an era where social media allows the new white moderates to borrow the wokeness of people deeply committed to social change by clicking the re-tweet or share buttons.
The new white moderate is a white person who believes in white privilege, white fragility, implicit bias, and the overall inequity that exists within the American social structure. They read, watch, and listen to today’s thought leaders on race. NWM recognize racism when they see it. Many of them possess a heightened sensitivity to racism and can often see racism in comments or actions that appear void of malicious or racist intent. They are secretly discontent with the lack of diversity at their jobs, churches, or in their communities.
Today’s moderate is different than the moderates that sat on the sidelines of the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s. Those white moderates were blind to privilege, implicit bias, and fragility. They didn’t have access to the menagerie of woke content that saturates the internet today. In today’s world, NWM have become well versed in the language, trends, and stories that boost their understanding of the issues that keep black and brown people from standing on equal footing with white people in America.
Moderates then and now hold some beliefs that prevent them from engaging in the minority struggle for equality. These ideologies hold their wokeness at bay and blind them to their lack of allying and advocacy. Chief among these ideas is the belief that Time will fix it.
I worked for an organization that was reluctant to take even the smallest steps forward in the dialog about racial inclusion and equality because the timing needed to be just right. I agree that the schedule for having a dialog about race, justice, and equity should be well-timed, well thought out, and well executed. The problem with the new white moderate is that the “right time” they are waiting for seems to be measured by the white fragility watch.
The time for dialog about racism is almost never right now.
I’ve heard white moderates say that a solution to racism is to “wait for old racist white people to die off.”. I’ll echo the words of Dr. King.
Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. 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. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.
In this past three years, my children have come home from high school and middle school with stories of 12 to 17-year-old students who use terms like nigger and coon. If we are to continue to wait for time to emerge as the long-awaited Messiah for racial justice, we are at least another generation away from seeing the change that many of us are so eagerly awaiting.
There is no way forward for the new white moderate or any of us that won’t cost us. No path of little resistance exists for people wanting to commit to significant efforts of change. Time will not jump into the fight and win the battle for us.
The new white moderate is a fifth-year senior in the aware stage of white wokeness. They are more progressive than those that are in denial about the effects of racism on our society but pose no threat to the systems and structures that keep racism in place. They aren’t willing to go public with their objections to the evils of racism for fear of what it could cost them financially or socially. NWM are comfortable in the privilege they so readily admit is an ugly stain on the fabric of our Nation. That privilege allows them to evade feeling any sense of urgency for change. It’s not their fight, but here’s hoping that one day it will be.