To the Editor:
Reading the Jan. 24 column from Lea Sylvestro, I was struck by the similarities of my own experience. Growing up white in a white town, I was ignorant of the plight of the non-white citizens until I was confronted with Martin Luther King, Jr. My guess is that many of you, reading her letter, found you had the same “white” experience. Even as a student in a Catholic school, I was not encouraged to see what others were experiencing until I had a nun in my Senior year of high school who asked us if we would go to Selma. Then on television I saw the images of the protesters being hosed by the storm troopers of Bull Connor.
On January 17th, some of my fellow parishioners at Christ Church joined me in reading his Letter from Birmingham Jail. In the letter, Dr. King confronts his fellow clergymen with their refusal to participate in freeing the oppressed, with their reluctance to stand up for what was right and buck the status quo. As a prophet, King confronts them (and us today if we will really read him) to do the right thing. As a prophet speaking truth to power, King was making us white people very uncomfortable. That is the prophet’s job. To bring the word of God to those who don’t want to hear it. Like other prophets before him, the message was dangerous and eventually got him executed.
I am grateful to Lea Sylvestro for laying out the gaps in our education. We must confront our own comfort with the status quo. We can’t do that unless we face the facts, atone for the systemic wrongs that have been too long perpetuated and ignored. The white fear of the “other” is easily disguised by political rhetoric. But the moral imperative cannot be camouflaged forever.