Roy Exum: A Moderate White

Thursday, October 5, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

As I sat in the back of the Hamilton County Commission’s chambers Wednesday and awaited the vote regarding the removal of a Confederate statue, I knew exactly what I was about to see but wasn’t ready for what I saw. The removal of statues is the silliest trend in America, heightened only by the embarrassment over the kneelers who flagrantly disrespect our national anthem at pro football games.

I’m against anything silly or stupid in politics but you know what is even worse? Watching six white guys voting against two black guys makes my skin crawl. Never mind that all eight guys are each high on my list and that the discussion was wonderful. I worry that somewhere there is a black kid who believes this whole statue thing and athletes who kneel is all about black-versus-white and I don’t like that at all. But the color line is clear.

I am a moderate white guy who has a pretty good understanding of the Civil War. Monuments had nothing to do with it. They came later. From a personal standpoint, the worst monument in America is the Viet Nam Wall in Washington. I wish it was never there but some names of my childhood friends are on it and I visit it on every trip to D.C.

That NFL football players kneel in protest over the way white police officers treat blacks is laughable when you see how many of them have police records. An active pro player, on average, is arrested every seven days. I’ll guarantee you the black guys whose names are on the Viet Nam Wall would never kneel.

Then again, I can’t see as blacks do so when I got home yesterday afternoon I went to my treasure trove and found my favorite story about moderate white people. It was written in 1963 and is an excerpt of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legendary “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Dr. King wrote it to other clergy to explain why he felt moved to go to Birmingham and many years ago I learned he really wrote it to me, a moderate white:

* * *

PART OF “A LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL”
Written by Martin Luther King, April 16, 1963

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." 

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. 

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.

Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. 

Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? 

We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. 

Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." 

Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. 

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. 
We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

* * *

Once again, I deplore the removal of any statues and revile the “look at me” displays by NFL players but never want there to come a day that this white moderate ever forgets “the time is always ripe to do right.” I just needed to check my hold cards when I got home yesterday. Always check your hold cards.

* * *

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.” -- Nelson Mandela

royexum@aol.com




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