by Reynaldo Guevara
Something I realized in adulthood: in school, they taught us racism in history class. I grew up assuming it had died with Martin Luther King, Jr. As an adult I’ve learned, through a painful process, that assumption is false.
When I was a kid I would watch footage from the civil rights movement with tears in my eyes and wonder what I would have done back then. I imagined myself marching side by side with my friends and family. I imagined widespread, shameless, passionate advocacy for racial justice and social equality. I assumed no one I knew would stand against Martin Luther King and his simple message.
As an adult I’ve learned, through a painful process, that assumption was false.
I know now that half of the people in my life would hate Martin Luther King Jr. if he was alive and doing his work today. I’ve learned that from the past four years, yes. But I really started to understand these truths after Ferguson. When a simple chorus began to rise, “Black lives matter,” I thought, “well, obviously they do.” I thought the church and the communities around me would echo the sentiment which had become clear and accepted after Dr. King’s murder.
Then they didn’t.
Then there were excuses and qualifications. There were years of enmity and arguments against justice. Then, this summer, we were marching again. Then there were police officers and soldiers in the streets. There were arrests and extrajudicial killings. Over fifty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the crowds said “Black lives matter” and half the country said “we respectfully disagree.”
Racism is not history. Racism is an issue for our time. Racism is real.
If Martin Luther King were alive today, I believe he would be in the streets saying “Black lives matter.” I believe I would be marching right behind him. I also believe many of you would hate the sight of us. I believe that because of how you responded to the sight of me and my friends marching this summer. The way you hate the sight of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, or Mike Brown or Tamir Rice even. I see your faces when you see their names on streets or on the uniforms of professional athletes you used to like. I’m sure I’ll see it in the comments on this post.
I want you to know I see you. I see you now and I see you in the faces of the bigots and the counter protestors from the civil rights movement, your forefathers. I want you to know that you’re not the good guy. You’re the bad guy. You’ll offer your excuses. I’ll listen to them, even though I’ve heard them all before, but your excuses won’t change this fact: you’re the bad guy.
So who am I in all this? I don’t know. Some days I feel like the bad guy myself. I don’t think the point of Martin Luther King Jr. Day is for all of us to become new icons of the civil rights movement. I think the point is to always pursue Dr. King. We should pursue his example, his goals, his dream. And in doing so we will take steps in the right direction. This is the bare minimum we can do to honor him.
I love my country, my church, and my community. Because I love them, I will always demand they keep their promises. And I will demand of myself widespread, shameless, passionate advocacy for racial justice and social equality. This seems like the only way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.