“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to re-educate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn...resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook.” - MLK Jr. 1967
King said this 52 years ago. 52 collective years have passed that has included hundreds of deaths by the hands of police, multiple communities displaced by gentrification, schools re-segregated, the continued disproportionate imprisonment of black and brown people, an ever increasing household wealth inequality gap, families separated at the southern border and the election of one a man who adopted Bull Connor’s political platform like no other, and here we are still.
By definition, “ignorance” describes a state of not knowing. In a large sense, it is innocent – after all, there are many things that one does not know. However, what makes the racial ignorance King was speaking to here particularly insidious is white America’s refusal to acknowledge the historic and present oppression of non-white folks and their participation in it, complicit or otherwise. Again, the ignorance here is intentional and obstinate. Terms like the “race card”, “race-baiter”, “colorblind”, and similar terms are all attempts to push the fallacious narrative that anti-blackness is a trope, a played out, tired refrain in the cacophonous chorus of victim-hood.
Practically, this phenomenon shows up in interesting ways at work. Diversity and Inclusion programs, led by white people, drive discussions centered around white comfort. New language is created to ignore the reality of systemic racism within the workplace. “Diversity of thought” is the ultimate ideal - effectively justifying mostly white, mostly male leadership. Gender is the shiniest silver medal with no attempt at inter-sectional engagement, erasing non-white identities and the history attached. Unconscious bias training is the cure-all, driving the presumption that the majority is not intentionally bigoted. In the best scenarios, attempts to bring these truths to light are met with soft nods, a commitment to continued dialogue and little else. This does little for those in the minority who continue to see and be the witnesses and recipients of inequitable treatment.
America’s response to being presented one of the greatest speakers, leaders and minds of modern history was harassment from the FBI, assault and imprisonment by police, and murder. Despite this, in a world wrought by so much chaos, corruption, and immorality, I still have hope. The largest misconception is that hope is an intangible feeling, a wish upon a star billions of miles away that things will somehow get better by the notion that it simply must do so. For me however, hope is a verb. Hope is the pairing of intentional and strategic behaviors with clear, desired outcomes. Until that happens, “resonant resolutions about brotherhood will continue to fall pleasantly on the ear”.