Recently, I was watching We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest, and in it, a young Muslim girl shares how she and her mother (both who were wearing hijabs) went to Pebble Beach, and a white woman yells out at her mother, “Watch out! She’s got a bomb!” The young girl relates that they weren’t as upset by what the woman shouted — because this was not the first time they had experienced similar acts of fear from whites — but more by the silence of those who were witnesses: No one said anything.
Her words kept resonating all day in my ears and heart: No one said anything. On Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, this documentary on his life showed the footage of their ‘60s marches through Selma and Montgomery. Huge crowds of white folks, men and women and children of all ages, with Confederate flags yelling the n-word and throwing things at the frightened, but brave marchers. In the film, one woman even spit in Dr. King’s face. As I watched, I was appalled by such a cowardly act of hatred and then with great sadness, I realized how those very same looks are still with us today. The fierce anguish on their faces reminded me of the recent January 6th white supremacist terrorist attacks on the Capitol. The hatred and violence is still here in 2021, and the silence of those who say nothing is just as deafening as it was back then. So, what can be done to break the silence?
Perhaps the words of a young black man, Amutabi Haines, best express what is needed:
“One time I visited the maximum security prison in Salem, and the first person I met was a black man in an orange jumpsuit sweeping, who with exuberance and a big smile, said: ‘How you doing brother?’ This happened over and over as I made my way through the prison. In a strange way it was the first and only time I felt like part of the critical mass anywhere in the whole state, and felt even the semblance of safety and care.
But, know that without justice, without equity, without honoring diversity and truly including us in the sharing of power, there will not be peace for anyone.
You and your descendants will not know true peace and happiness, as long as systems that subjugate, enslave, and terrorize are allowed to survive and thrive here. That is a promise.
And so, if you want to do something to end racism, stop the suffering of a crisis of imagination, a crisis of listening, a crisis of possibility… and meet me as someone who wants to live a fully expressed, safe, free and celebrated life in peace. Meet me as the possibility I am.”