By John Deasy
“First, I must confess that over the last 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 the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is absent of tension to a positive peace which is in the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’ … 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.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
An open letter to Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates:
Mr. Coates, I have read with great interest your many provocative and painful articles and books over these past few years. I feel I must speak louder and broader about my reaction, my realizations, and my responsibilities; in writing to you, I am acutely aware of the imprecision of my language, so I ask forgiveness for my prose, and seek acceptance of my purpose.
I cannot come to any other conclusion about our country’s current state of affairs than that I believe we are now engaged in an uncivil war. The evidence is everywhere: our streets, our schools, our courts, our financial system, our borders, our neighborhoods — and, of course, our politics. I watch people being killed, being re-enslaved in poverty, being removed from the middle class; I watch as walls are erected to prevent upward mobility; I watch seemingly incomprehensible reactions to murder, market manipulation, and monstrously hateful rhetoric; I watch a criminal justice system that seems detached from justice, the willful and deliberate incarceration of our youth, and the deliberate means of school punishment perverted in ways to sort out young black men, and other youth of color.
I watch adults model rhetoric and incivility at a level of such hate and invective that it shames the soul.
This uncivil war is being fought in boardrooms, classrooms, jails and housing patterns; on street corners and throughout our political process. It has many causalities, and I by no means make light of death or destruction (for I am sick and tired of burying children), but I fear the greatest casualty is yet to come: that of a destruction of belief. Belief in our system of governance, education, finance — and most of all our structures built around belief in one another.
Layered in the paralyzing prose you have penned is the chilling statement that you have come to expect nothing from us.
Mr. Coates, you so eloquently place the conditions and plight of the black family in front of us, starkly, without apology. But then I put down your book, and see nothing being done to remedy these wrongs. Again, I read, like so many others, the chilling implications of our collective inaction. (One need only review the New York Times article by David Leonhardt on The 1.5 Million Missing Black Men to fully understand your points of pain.)
As a career educator and public leader, I know much the same could be written about our Latino brothers and sisters, our yet-to-be-documented youth, our families who have recently descended into poverty. Your words also aptly apply to our rehabilitated felons who are seemingly no longer considered full citizens, and also our workers who earn minimum wage for work no politician will do, even as those same leaders push back against efforts to raise the minimum wage.
However, the excruciating impacts of America’s twin original sins — slavery and segregation — leave you no choice but to focus on our black brothers and sisters and their families. Wage justice, criminal justice, social justice, community justice, health justice and environmental justice seem to have been removed from “Equal Justice Under the Law.”