In his 1963 “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. bemoaned the spiritual bypassing of the white moderates of his day.
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… 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.
While that problem clearly persists, or we wouldn’t presently find ourselves arguing over the phrase and movement, “Black Lives Matter,” the old school, clergyman brand of the white moderate isn’t what I want to talk about. It’s the new brand: The White Spiritual Type. The White Spiritual Type wears a coat of many colors: The Hippy The Fourth and Fifth Dimensioner The Don’t Let Them Divide Us The Too Cool For School Conspiracy Theorist The Antivaxxer Who Questions Everything But Their Biases The Red Piller Who’s One Negative Experience Away From Renouncing Their Lifestyle To Be Born Again.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but you get it.
The one I want to talk about is the spiritual type who readily borrows from other cultures for their own enjoyment and edification, but is nowhere to be seen, putting those cultures’ practices into action.
The yogis, who despite chanting satnam (I am truth) and om gum ganapataye namaha to Ganesha to be able to overcome obstacles, can’t overcome their addiction to not rocking the boat to speak up in favor of justice. They may even have invoked Pattabhi Jois to you: Practice and all is coming. But now that the moment that yoga and meditation was preparing them for is here… crickets.
Another is the light workers that regularly smudge the spaces they’re in of negative energy, with materials cobbled together from various Indigenous traditions… who are silent in the face of racial microaggressions perpetrated by their white siblings that disrupt the energy of the rooms they’re in.
The foodies who t travel across town to stuff themselves on delicacies they could never prepare, with spices they know nothing about… who don’t bat more than an eye, and give more than a “How sad” sigh when they hear that their favorite taco or soul food spot has been gentrified out of existence.
This is who we’re talking about right now.
Some of these very people believe and have said out loud that they believe the world’s wealthiest are lizard people—fucking lizard people—but they can’t say “Black lives matter.” Come. The. Fuck. On. If you can admit out loud to believing there are lizard people, what is so hard about saying that black lives matter… without softening it, or qualifying it by tacking on that all lives matter… or that you also believe such and such?
Dr. King said that, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
Though these New Age White Moderates may have quoted King to remind us that, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” their love in action for their Black and non-white siblings is glaringly absent. Yet, they don’t recognize themselves in this betrayal.
If and when we come through this moment on the correct side of justice, more unified in our commitments to human rights and our espoused national ideals, they’ll celebrate the W [win]. They’ll also likely skim over how the fights for Black liberation have benefitted everyone: ICE detainees, America’s indigenous, poor white folks lacking resources. In the process, they’ll have skipped the internal work that, collectively done, got us to that place.
If you’re white, it’s your responsibility, to not let these folks “of genuine goodwill” do that. I can’t give you an exact roadmap, because human relationships aren’t like that. What I can say: You all need to figure out a way to relate to one another, so that you can collectively give a fuck about others. Your collective inability to relate is literally killing people.
If you’re not white, it’s your responsibility to not go quietly into the night. Zora Neale Hurston said, “If you’re silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Don’t let “them” be able to say that about you. Share your pain, in whatever ways are authentic to you, but also share the rest of you. Share your joys, your curiosities, your journeys, your imperfections.
If you don’t, and we end up on the wrong side of justice, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it. And if past is predicate, the inaction of the White Moderate—whether old school, or the New Age Spiritual Type—will let it pass.