Yesterday, May 2, 2013, was my 54th birthday and I had decided not to write yesterday, but just to be. It’s Jazz Fest in New Orleans, and friends were clamoring to meet me for lunch and celebrate my birthday. When I woke and checked my work emails, the first thing that struck me was a racist ad by Pepsi that had been pulled. Anybody who is paying attention is unfortunately not shocked that this commercial made it through concept, development, planning and execution without anyone stopping along the way to be offended on so many levels.
Then a friend, unaware that it is my birthday (which for anyone on Facebook seems impossible these days) forwarded me this email:
The The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum … last week … program, “Lessons of the Birmingham Movement: A Symposium of Youth, Activism and the Struggle for Human Rights” was phenomenal … . A major part of the Program was commemorating “D-Day” which took place on May 2, 1963, when more than a thousand black students gathered at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to begin an unprecedented march downtown, facing police lines and arrests.
The other piece to this is that on September 15, 1963 two bombs were placed in the basement, and children’s area of the 16th Street Baptist Church as retaliation for May 2. On that Sunday morning …, a white man was seen getting out of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car and placing a box under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Soon afterwards, at 10.22 a.m., the bomb exploded killing Denise McNair (11), Addie Mae Collins (14), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14). The four girls had been attending Sunday school classes at the church. Twenty-three other people were also hurt by the blast. It is also worth noting that a second bomb was also found, however, it failed to detonate.
If you don’t know your past, you are not only doomed to repeat it, you’ll be mortified by Newtown and Boston not realizing that individuals in our nation have collective work to do. This is not something that you cast a vote for then half-ask the elected official to do on your behalf. Personal, individual responsibility was the driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
As Dr. King so eloquently wrote from a jail cell in Birmingham in April 1963, “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.” As long as there are “others” and not one collective citizenry, we are simply scratching the surface of what bitter, ignorance can do to re-divide this country—from the inside not out.
I was struck by: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will” as I’ve found that to be the hardest part of this “collective work.” For everyone who believes not mentioning racism, not acknowledging color, not accepting white privilege as a fact, and not making it your individual responsibility to make sure that on the most basic level a commercial like the one Pepsi/Mountain Dew made does not happen, let me just say this, take your head out of your ass.