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Suza: Silence perpetuates harm in the world

Guest columnist Walter Suza reflects on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Be the light.

Because “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached.

We must be the light to drive out the darkness of wars, mass shootings, domestic terrorism, violation of voting rights, violation of civil rights and threats to democracy, even in the United States.

Be the light by telling people that being safe from wars matters, people having access to food and health care matters, people having a country to call home matters, people’s dignity and worth matters, people having justice on their side matters.

In these times when humanity seems to have forgotten how to care, we must not stop caring about things that matter.

King also preached: “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice.”

What mattered to King was not just his family, his friends, his church, his life. What mattered to King was also a more just society. This is why he spoke up even in the face of danger.

King spoke up despite Black churches being bombed, police canines and water cannons tearing Black flesh, police batons cracking Black heads, jails packed with civil rights activists. King spoke up despite cryptic phone calls made to his home.

Because many do not speak up, the hard-earned civil rights from sacrifice by King and others are being violated. Because many do not speak up, the United States continues to be involved in wars. Because many do not speak up, programs intended to increase diversity in historically white institutions are dismantled. Because many do not speak up, affirmative action is dead, DEI is dying and voting rights is on life support.

Why isn’t everyone screaming “enough” from the top of their lungs?

“Speaking out publicly is not how I am wired,” a white friend responded. “I fight injustice differently than you. I do it through my financial contributions to social justice organizations.”

I love my friend, but what a cop-out by someone whose skin tone offers more protection from backlash for speaking up.

“The ultimate tragedy,” King said, “is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”

My friend’s silence, like the quintessential “white silence,” emanates from the belief that silence is power. True. Power to perpetuate injustice. Making private financial contributions may feel good, but “if you are good, yet silent, maybe you’re not really as good as you think,” King believed. 

This is why I must say to those who oppose affirmative action and DEI in higher education: Listen. To be white is to worry about getting a job after college, just like Black and Brown students. To be white is to fear failure, just like Black and Brown students. To be white is to become ill sometimes, just like Black and Brown students. To be white is to become anxious sometimes, just like Black and Brown students. To be white is to be sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, just like Black and Brown students.

I know this because I was a Black student at American white colleges.

If one believes all humans are created in the image of God, but if all they see from childhood is White, will they ever be capable of imagining God might also appear to us as Black and Brown people? The death of affirmative action, and the forthcoming death of DEI, rob white students of the chance to learn they are human, just like Black and Brown students.

To those who protest the teaching of the entire history of the United States, listen: We can’t become a more perfect union if we do not understand what our imperfections might be. Saying war is evil isn’t a lie. Saying slavery still impacts Black life isn’t a lie. Saying slavery was morally wrong isn’t a lie.

The Bible says that “the lamp of the body is the eye.” If the eye can’t see, “the whole body will be full of darkness.” If we do not deal with the dark side of our history, history shall reward us with nothing more than darkness.

The eye that sees it OK to fund endless global wars fails to see decimated bodies under the rubble. The eye that saw it fit to subjugate another fails to see the harm of a systemic structure that holds the descendants of the subjugated behind. The eye that saw it fit to kill Native and Indigenous peoples failed to see the roots of darkness even before Christopher Columbus learned to sail. To help the eye see is to “light a candle” and “put it on a candlestick” so “it giveth light unto all that are in the house,” according to the Bible.

Earth is our house. We must give light to all humans. We must speak up even if we become hated, despised, chastised, threatened, isolated. We must speak up even if the change we seek takes 400 years.

Silence is death. Speaking up is life.

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  • D

    David Jackson | Jan 17, 2024 at 9:43 pm

    How exactly do affirmative action and DEI support Dr. King’s legacy of judging all people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin?

    How does it help qualified people being rejected because the organization already has enough of their skin color, instead of being judged on their merit, when they now don’t have the opportunity they worked for?

    How does it help unqualified people being chosen because the organization wanted more of their skin color, instead of being judged on their merit, when they now have responsibilities they’re unqualified for?

    How exactly does tokenism help people be respected in their fields or by their coworkers?

    How ist/phobic/bigoted does someone have to be to assume certain people cannot succeed on a level playing field, and instead need the field tipped to their advantage?

    Supporting DEI does not make you a champion of justice, it makes you a useful idiot for a destructive political ideology which false advertises itself as progress. An ideology whose evil genius is insulating its followers from ever looking at the real-world results of their policies and seeing the havoc left in their wake by telling followers they get to feel morally and intellectually superior about themselves for their stated intentions, regardless of the actual outcomes.

  • J

    Jase | Jan 17, 2024 at 7:27 pm

    Isn’t affirmative action in direct contradiction of the idea that people should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”? Also, people supposedly being racist isn’t what’s happening here. As a matter of fact, it’s the opposite. People just want to disregard race as a whole and have a merit-based academic system and economy. Furthermore, the ancestors of many Asian-American students have faced oppression throughout American history such as at Angel Island, internment camps, etc., but they’re directly and unfairly disadvantaged by affirmative action policies, so how would that fit into the equation?

    One thing I also wanted to clarify is that man being made in the image of God doesn’t refer to our physical form (which holds attributes such as skin color), because we were meticulously designed by God. Rather, it’s referring to how God gave us souls unlike the other beings He created. Furthermore, most Christians from my experience acknowledge the fact that Jesus was likely Middle Eastern and not European, but don’t bother to emphasize such a detail because of how trivial racial identity seems to them.