- At the Desert Retreat House -
In a recent speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the celebrated "civil rights march" on the bridge in Selma, Alabama, President Obama praised the courage and sacrifice of those who suffered and even died for justice back those many years ago; and he also said, "We know the march is not yet over." He went on to say that, although there has been significant progress in developing a just society in which everyone is treated with equal dignity, racism isn't dead and so the march for the cause of justice still goes on. No truer words were ever spoken.
A few days ago we heard about those privileged "White" Oklahoma college "frat boys" chanting a horrific racist slogan while riding on a bus. In their chant they pledged that they would never allow African Americans into their exclusive fraternity (the language they used was crude and offensive and replete with racial slurs). In fact they even chanted about rounding up and "lynching" people of color. Everyone on the bus seemed to know the song they were singing--sung with great gusto and vigor.
That ugly racist chant opened up all sorts of old wounds.
When I first heard this story I recoiled in horror at what I was hearing- was this 2015 or 1950? Were they actually singing a song about "lynching" black people- stringing them up from the nearest tree? If ever there was proof that the march for justice is not yet over, here was the perfect example of it.
Over the last few years the issue of race seems to have raised its it's ugly head again in this country - the unarmed Black teenagers murdered by Caucasian policemen, protests and race riots on the streets of Ferguson and New York City, and now that racist rant on a bus full of college students in Oklahoma.
We may indeed have come a long way toward becoming a nation of liberty and justice for all since that Selma march of 50 years ago, but we sure do have a long way yet to go.
I just read an eyewitness account of someone who marched in Selma those many years ago. She mentioned that a lot of people back then carried placards that read, "I am somebody," and wondered what difference there was between those placards and the placards carried in today's marches that read, "Black Lives matter." I think it's a good question.
There are no doubt many "White" people who lead a privileged life who may say that, while they might regret the fact prejudice and racism still prevail in society today, it really doesn't affect them - but this is simply not true. This is a spiritual issue affecting each and every one of us. We are all spiritually connected into a complex web of inter-relationship; and what happens on a street in Ferguson or on a bus in Oklahoma reverberates throughout this entire interconnected web. If one part of the web is torn, the entire web is infected.
Speaking at the Selma march 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. said this:
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, affects all indirectly.
When those college kids on that bus were chanting about lynching Black people, they were singing about lynching me and lynching you. We are one another. We belong to one another.
We know that the march is not yet over.
Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"