Our Quote of the Week for this Martin Luther King Day zones in on what is at the heart of racism: the desire to feel superior, combined with the fear of being less than. This clash of deep-seated human emotions has fueled racism, white supremacy, and oppression for centuries. Sargent Shriver effected change in part by publicly confronting his predominantly white and relatively privileged audiences with such words, supporting the work of leaders like Dr. King, and giving us an example of how to be an ally.
It was not uncommon for Sargent Shriver to challenge audiences to deal with their racial bias and to work to eliminate the discrimination and oppression that were embedded in our systems. The examples are too numerous to list here, but our Quote of the Week, from his 1958 speech, "The Roots of Racism" provides an excellent example.
Of course, part of being an ally means acting as well as speaking up, and Sargent Shriver did plenty of both. Along with African American leaders, he led the successful integration of public and parochial schools in Chicago in the 1950s. He created the programs of the War on Poverty, which were designed to provide economic opportunity and to empower underserved communities around the United States (many of which were communities of color). And he continued to speak up and fight for the less vulnerable in the halls of Congress and in communities around the country for his entire life.
We can’t all be allies in the same way that Sargent Shriver was, but we can all be allies. We all have a sphere of influence and we all have ways to lift up others in our own communities. These aren’t just fanciful words. They are an expression of an urgent need for humanity’s survival on this planet.
This year's theme for the Martin Luther King day is “the urgency of now.” As Dr. King said:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.”
Before it's too late, let us do what we can to acknowledge and deal with the privilege that we have. Let us learn to be allies. Let us challenge systems, from within and from without. Let us protest. Let us collaborate. If we witness oppression, violence, or discrimination, let us speak up. If we are in positions of privilege or power, let us listen and let us be part of solutions designed by people who are affected by the problems. Let us amplify the voices of others. We need to do all of these things. We need to do them urgently. We need to do them now. If we do all of these things, we can transform our hearts, our communities, our country, and our world.