An American Problem

David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King in Selma

Selma is the most important movie I have seen in a long time. Everyone should watch it because its telling of Civil Rights history holds a mirror to our present day. It’s an ugly picture, but we must confront it because white supremacy is far from being a vestigial remnant of the past. Jim Crow laws may be long gone, but every black life snuffed out by white police officers and vigilantes—who in turn are not called to account for their actions—testifies that racial equality and justice are nevertheless a long way off.

Two lines stood out to me when I watched Selma this afternoon. The first was delivered by Martin Luther King, and said something to the effect of white pastors who preach the Bible, but remain silent on these matters of racial justice in front of their congregations bear their share of guilt. This is a conversation that we must have in our churches, mine included, and it must go deeper than mealy-mouthed platitudes about what a great man MLK was. If we claim to admire Dr. King and what he stood for, but in the here and now find ourselves more concerned about riots and property damage and respectable behavior than about dead black bodies left uncovered in the street, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

The second line came at the end of the film, as Lyndon Baines Johnson announced the Voting Rights Act of 1965: There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is only an American problem.

There is no them. There is only you and me, only us.

Do we have the guts to look in the mirror and deal with what we see there?