Black History Month
Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about Black History Month.
OK, I know what some of you are thinking…another white person talking about Black History Month. And those of you who are thinking that…you’re right. It’s easy to pick a subject to talk about and use the trendy hashtag to get readers. I could tell you my thoughts on Black History Month or times when I have seen someone bullied or targeted for harassment because of the color of their skin. But I’m not going to do that.
Actually, I’m not really going to talk about Black History Month. This is going to be a very brief episode. Why? Because Black History Month is not about me or my voice or my opinions or my experiences or things I have witnessed. If you are honest with yourself, you know the effects of racism and the hold it still has in this country. Me talking about it as a white person in this podcast isn’t going to change that.
So why even record this? Because I want to remind us all that this month is about black voices and black stories and black heroes and everyday black parents raising kids in our communities.
I really wanted to acknowledge this month and honor it in some way, but instead of me retelling anything, I want to challenge us all to look to see the stories of black people in our communities and in our national history. Really look. Try to set aside any prejudices you may come with and really listen.
The first black voice I really listened to was Martin Luther King, Jr. Remember I am a product of the South and my early education did not involve offering any opportunities to study black history or read black authors. But when I first read King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” I kept a copy that I still have to this day. It really touched me and forced me to think about so many things that I had never thought of before.
I want to read part of this letter here:
“But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”
Later in the letter, King writes:
“You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
“Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”
King goes on to say:
“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.
“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.”
His letter is very lengthy, but very powerful. My first challenge to you for this episode is to actually find a copy of the letter online and read it all the way through. Then reread it a few days later. Let the power of the words and thoughts soak in. This letter is still very relevant today.
My second challenge: find black voices to listen to on this subject. That’s why I’m not sharing anything personal in this episode. I want you to find black podcasters and listen to them. Go to a lecture featuring a black historian…read a book written by a black author…find a black preacher and listen to her sermons…follow online several black politicians and read their posts about what they are working for in their communities…read books about black history month to your children. Share social media posts supporting a black-owned business in your area. Give that business an online review.
This month is not about our white interpretation of Black History Month. It’s about us looking to see the black neighbors in our community…hearing the black voices in our nation…and going back and seeing history with a brutal honesty…finding truth in the black voices that we have too often tried to erase.
Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.