I Can’t Not Look

pat1008sI can’t not look at ‘unpeace’ in the USA. I’ve never been able to look away. Wherever in the world I’ve wandered, some stubborn part of my heart has never stopped monitoring the pain unfolding in my home country.

I learned the term unpeace from colleagues in Mindanao, Philippines many years ago. Unpeace simply means that peace is lacking. This wonderfully quirky word reminds us that peace is not just about the absence of physical violence. Peace is also about the flourishing of just and healthy relationships. Where relationships and social systems are broken there is unpeace – with the USA being a prime example.

That’s why people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have begun showing up in my blog. This blog has always been about First Nations history, so some explanation is due. Last year, when the pace of my global travel increased, I knew it would be tough to maintain enough presence to consistently engage First Nations issues here in Seattle. This was painful, but I thought I could carry on by broadening my reflection to look at indigenous rights around the world.

There’s only one problem: I can’t not look at the USA. All of it. I can’t fail to see the promise of our diversity, and the wide range of ‘isms’ that mar our potential. I can’t not hear that “we hold these truths to be self-evident: all men are created equal” … and I can’t stop wondering when we will make this aspiration into a reality.  I can’t stop noticing how distortions at home get exported overseas.

Most of all, I can’t not write about my own experiences in wrestling with race, gender, economics, etc, in the USA. This means broadening the range of issues in the blog. Even so, I will always see the First Nations experience at the very center of American unpeace. It shocks me how often this centrality gets overlooked.  If we don’t come to grips with whose feet walked here first, then how can we reconcile the brokenness that came afterwards? That is a topic for another day…

I’ll Stand by You. Won’t I?

IMG_0097I used to live in Washington DC, but that was a decade ago, so I didn’t see the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial until last Saturday. I was in DC briefly for a conference, and I didn’t want to leave without visiting that site. I am not a big fan of statues in general, but of course this is MLK we’re talking about.

I awoke that day with a snapshot of myself standing next to MLK already composed in my mind. That photo did not become a reality, because the memorial is tall, and I am short! However, envisioning that scene prompted me to ask a tough question. It’s easy to stand by a sculpture of a martyred hero from 50 years ago. But would I have ‘stood by’ MLK during the troubled 1960s, while he was still alive?

My gut says ‘yes,’ that I would have supported MLK actively and courageously, and I want to believe that it’s true. After all, I am passionate about justice and I have been known to do some ‘out of the box’ things. However the 60s were a different era, when the dangers of taking a stand were a lot less subtle than they are today.

It’s disturbingly unlikely that I as a white person would have paid with my life…but there certainly would have been a cost.  If I were alive in the 60s my own thinking would be influenced by all the biases and limitations of the day. Among other obstacles, how many of the white civil rights activists were female?

So, would I have stood by MLK during the 1960s? My gut says yes, but I’ll never know for sure. What I can do is look for the people who are making a difference in 2013, and stand by them now.

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Note: To any readers who wonder why this blog post is not about First Nations history…I’ll explain that in an upcoming post. I promise!