Without blame or naming fault, we are responsible for keeping our side of the street clean. I am convinced that this is the only way to heal the damage of racism. This is what MLK Jr. did with his non-violent resistance and, when we act with non-violence, we ourselves become the contrast against which hidden racism is revealed. Otherwise, when we are as soiled with hatred as the racist, those who are watching us, the witnesses to injustice, cannot tell the difference. They see the two side with no difference between hate and hate. We don’t have to go anywhere to fight racism. Just keeping our simple circumstances free of hate is all we have to do.
It is important to emphasize that small acts of nonviolence are all that is needed to end racism once and for all. Small acts are effective because people do nothing at all. In the face of nothing, small actions carry a lot of weight.
We don’t have to go anywhere to fight racism; we don’t have to seek out places and people to resist. The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson are instructive here: “Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.“ Life is overflowing with injustice right where we are. A warrior knows that one battle is not the war. Be like the warrior and win one small battle at a time. Such is the war won. Think small, it will lead to big things but first we must master the simple, the obvious, the immediate. Everything else flows from this.
This is what makes a great chef, a master painter or architect. Perfection is achievable in the small things however imperfect life is.
The lesson I learned from my family is that people are invisible to us when we are centered on personal gain. Scripture and teachers of all faiths show us that the way to freedom lies in the end of our self seeking. As such, my own welfare is directly tied to how well I put aside selfishness in favor of seeing to the welfare of my brother.
I began this journey trusting that if I did what was right for those who are wronged by society that my own well being would be one outcome of helping others. When we are focused on our own pain we are blind to the pain we cause others and the pain that others carry with them. Until we address our own pain and become committed to relieving the pain of others, racism continues on unabated.
I first had to acknowledge the small but harmful things that are easy to ignore in myself, the small things that lead to racist words and actions. Suddenly the big picture occurred to me seemingly effortlessly after doing so. I came to understand what motivated MLK Jr. and Malcolm X. I now understand why my friend called me a racist even though I didn’t feel racist. First I had to completely rid myself of any belief that I was sufficient unto myself which is a lie. Willpower alone is never enough to overcome the obstacles we meet in life. Without a belief in our own innate goodness and the goodness of others, racism will never be defeated.
All my life I have gotten away with deluding myself about my own racist behavior and beliefs by hiding behind an inarticulate vagueness of thought. Once I began to articulate myself I saw that I had spent a lifetime envying people who could articulate themselves clearly and unemotionally on the state of their emotions and their perceptions of the world. It was time to become what I envied in others. The result of this introspection has been the formation of my own identity. When we have a firmly established self, it then becomes clear when we are mistreating others.
The most powerful anti-racist moments occur when we notice someone’s quiet suffering and step in to make it less.