In a NY Times op-ed piece published today entitled “Good and Evil in Birmingham,” Diane McWhorter rightly deconstructs our idea of the Civil Rights Movement as an exercise of the “good” versus the “evil”:
Our understanding of the “good” has expanded beyond the lone-dreamer theory to embrace other activists, like King’s partner in Birmingham, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Yet the evil segregationist archetype is fixed in the popular mind as the villainous housewife of “The Help” or the cretinous mob of “Django Unchained” — nobody we’d ever know, or certainly ever be.
But the disquieting reality is that the conflict was between not good and evil, but good and normal. The brute racism that today seems like mass social insanity was a “way of life” practiced by ordinary “good” people.
According to the Southern community’s consensus of “normal,” those fighting for rights now considered mainstream were “extremists,” and public servants could rationalize plans to murder men like Shuttlesworth, confident that they were on the right side of history.
As an Alabama native, I am not posting this as a condemnation. I am posting this as a reminder that our various “ways of life” in America today continue to implicate us all in an array of evils – racism included. This is the reality of structural sin. Entangled in this sticky web of sin and evil, we are always in need of healing and restoration and repentance; we must continue to be reminded that, while we follow Jesus Christ, we do not yet follow Jesus Christ. Our “new normals” may seem like progress, but doesn’t it seem like we open one eye only to close the other? I pray that today, as we celebrate the prophetic, healing witness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we have eyes to see and ears to hear those who continue to suffer under the “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” For all our good attempts to commemorate Dr. King on this day through physical acts of love and service to others, the Jericho Road still stands in need of transformation: “true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” The “new normal” is not normal at all – it is still evil.