Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN. Think about that. Fifty years. Five decades. His was a powerful message of unity, of ending racial strife.
Fifty years. But race relations don’t seem to be any further along now than they were when Dr. King’s life was taken. Where is unity?
On Palm Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend a performance of the play BLACK at Colorado Community Church in Aurora, CO. The play, written by Lamaria Aminah and directed by donnie l. betts, is intended to spark conversation among the audience members. Aminah, who was involved in Black Lives Matter 5280, wanted to articulate what she saw as a common and on-going problem in our country, that we don’t know how to talk about race.
Fifty years. And we STILL don’t know how to talk about race. Where is unity? Where is the end of racial strife?
BLACK is the conversation between two women—one black and one white—after a young black man is murdered by the police. The black woman (Ilasiea Gray) is the mother of the young man. The white woman (Anastasia Davidson) is the wife of the police officer. It is a situation rife with tension.
BLACK had many interesting moments, and a number of controversial ones as well. One of my favorite moments was a tense, emotional moment when the character Black recites—and the audience repeats them after her—the names of black men who have lost their lives due to police violence.
And sure, we can use this space, this time, now to say that not all cops are bad cops. Sure. But saying that misses the exact point of BLACK. In fact, it underscores the problem. A moving part at the beginning of the play is when White enters the stage, grief-stricken, in tears, barely able to speak. She doesn’t understand why Black isn’t in tears. Black agrees to tell White her story on the condition that White doesn’t interrupt, doesn’t try to argue, doesn’t contradict. In other words, listen.
This is the message of BLACK, and perhaps if we listen closely enough, the message of Dr. King. Listen.
Is racial reconciliation possible? Yes. But only if we are willing to put aside our own assumptions and predispositions. If we are willing perhaps to admit to the possibility of white privilege rather than immediately jumping to the defensive or offering weak justifications. If we are willing to listen.
I am pleased to announce that Dead Key Publishing is working with author, ordained minister and licensed mental health professional Michael Dawson to publish True Oneness: It’s Easier Than You Think. This manual and included discussion guide challenge us to “build bridges of compassion that will bring us closer together in trying times instead of pulling us apart.”
Dawson’s book echoes Aminah’s BLACK. Racial reconciliation will happen when those who have been marginalized have a voice and when those who haven’t listened begin. This was apparent during the Q&A after the play. Many people did not have questions but instead wanted to tell a part of their own story. Reconciliation begins when we listen to each other’s stories, when we intentionally begin to see through someone else’s eyes.