Two years ago, I went on a “pilgrimage” through South Africa to study racial segregation and reconciliation. Hearing that white individuals would give their non-white brothers and sisters a Bible and then in the name of God take their land and brutally beat or murder them, I felt intense hatred for the first time that I can remember. That hatred later led to guilt, which gave way to immobilizing frustration. But thankfully I have some good people in my life that didn’t let me stay there. Instead, my friends gently helped me back onto my feet and then pushed me back into the challenging spaces so I can keep fighting to work the tough stuff out for myself.
So today, I began yet another “pilgrimage,” this time to study race in my own country. After eight hours of museums and walks through some historical markers of Martin Luther King’s life, I am left with a jumbled mess of questions. The biggest is one that has been with me from my first days in Johannesburg: How is it possible for such a world as ours to exist? How can our world birth Martin Luther King Jr., nonviolent protestors pressing forward to reach justice, innocent people fighting for their God-given right to dream, and yet that same world births men and women who thrive on hatred, people who enact violence out of fear, individuals who accept segregation and injustice out of apathy or a sense of not knowing what to do?
This morning I stood in a room with rolling pictures on all sides. Across them bled images of white police releasing wild dogs upon peacefully protesting children, mobs of individuals screaming cruelties and pouring ketchup and mustard on the heads of four men sitting at a diner counter wanting to order breakfast, and cult members dressed in coned white hats cheering and sandwiched by burning crosses at their backs and a limp, hanging body at their fronts. Tear-brimmed eyes locked on the screen, my body tingled in anger and, once again, hatred. Hatred and anger at the men and women who oppress other human beings, hatred and anger at the systems and institutions that still allow racism and injustice to perpetuate, hatred and anger at myself for being born into a skin color that has claimed superiority throughout history.
Two years ago, I was stuck in this cycle of hatred that leads to guilt and immobilizing frustration, but I must admit that spending eight hours learning about Martin Luther King’s life, hearing his famous speeches playing in the background, sitting in the pews of his church hearing recordings of his sermons fill the room, and walking the front steps of the house where such greatness was born make it extremely difficult to come out of today with hatred still in my bones. If there is even such a possibility, this journey from hating to learning to love only produces greater depths of love, such love that no amount of hate can ever come close to overcoming.
But before I get ahead of myself and wrap up my thoughts with a tight, pretty bow, it is only day one of a seven-day journey through the South. I have no doubt more unanswered questions will inevitably arise, and I invite you to journey with me as we wrestle through those questions.