5 Things I Want My White Friends to Know on MLK Day

5 Things I Want My White Friends to Know on MLK Day

The older I get, the more significance this day bears. I am more keenly aware than ever about how far our country has come, yet how far we truly still have to go. My eyes are open to things I didn’t see before (or perhaps didn’t want to), and now, more than ever, I am committed to being an active participant in bringing about the type of change that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned. The type of change he was murdered for. The type of change that is paramount as I consider my family, the future of my daughters, and for generations to come.

At the same time, a bit of trepidation has crept in with each passing year as this day approaches. In this I am grieved because today should be about honoring a legacy, serving, learning, growing and challenging the status quo for the betterment of all. However, in the midst of the celebrations, reflections and acknowledgments, I’m met with a tension within. A tension that comes as I brace myself for whatever posts will surely flood my timeline, many of which are well-intentioned yet ring hollow in my ears.

These posts oft come from my white brothers and sisters, so whether an acquaintance or true friend, here are 5 things I want you to know on MLK Day.

  1. Celebrate Dr. King and honor this day, but don’t simply post a quote that makes you feel comfortable or confident in the notion of “how far we’ve come”. Examine the areas (personally and systemically) in which you must divest from thoughts and practices that uphold white supremacy. Beyond faith and staircases and I Have a Dream (don’t get me wrong, these are very good things), dig a little deeper into the man you say you admire and recognize how far we still have to go. Yes, he was a man of faith and a man with a dream, and he was also a man with a sense of urgency to turn that faith into action, while being hated by those who valued order over justice.

‘First, I must confess that over the past 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 his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler 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 the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” 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.’ 

Excerpt from a Letter From a Birmingham Jail

Also read/listen to “The Drum Major Instinct” Sermon

2. Refrain from gushing over how much you love and respect the work of Dr. King while silencing or ignoring the voices of black and brown activists who make you uncomfortable today. If you still hate Colin Kapernick and cringe at the mention of #BlackLivesMatter, do some more searching. If you think peaceful protests and marches are disrespectful and frivolous, ask yourself why. And if anything I’ve written so far has elicited a less than favorable reaction, take a deep breath, de-center those feelings, and keep on reading.

3. It’s difficult to see you posting about anti-racism today because it feels safe and acceptable with everyone else doing it, but being completely silent when injustice is happening the other 364 days a year. No, I don’t presume to know how you feel on every subject matter just because you don’t share about it on social media, but it’s painful to witness the continued stance of silence when black people are suffering and brown people are hurting. Only you and God know what’s happening outside of any social media platforms, and I sincerely hope it’s more than giving yourself a pat on the back for saying something one day a year.

4. Don’t act like you know what Dr. King would say and do if he were alive today, and what he would and wouldn’t find acceptable. You don’t know. It’s an impossibility. However, I believe those who are closest to having some truthful insight are his family and friends who continue to bear witness and speak truth to his legacy today. Listen to those voices and take a step back from your own. 

‘People often ask me, “What would he say were he alive today?” He’s said it. We’re just not listening.’ Ms. Bernice King, Daughter of Dr. and Mrs. King

5. Believe Black people and our experiences.  Stop saying that I’m pulling the race card because you “don’t see color” and your lived experience is nothing like mine. Don’t tone-police me because I use terms and words that are an affront to your sensibilities fragility, and stop telling us, telling me, that by speaking about race I’m being divisive. I need to talk about it. It needs to be talked about. And because you’re uncomfortable with it does not automatically mean division. There’s actual divisiveness and then there’s discomfort. Use discernment and please note the difference. 

In this past week alone, a bi-racial black woman has been met with accusation and an onslaught of attacks after being blamed for tearing apart the family she married into. This is in spite of her husband’s own words clearly expressing a resistance to the life he was born into and the copious amounts of hatred and racism she’s faced over and over again.

In this past week alone a black, female NAACP official was asked to give up her seat on an AMTRAK train to accommodate someone else with no further explanation.

And today in Richmond, Virginia, the Capital City of the Confederacy, there was a pro-gun rally. Though it (thankfully) ended peacefully, credible threats leading up to it prompted the annual MLK Vigil to be cancelled. 

There’s more, and unfortunately, there’s always more, but for my white friends et al, let’s recognize that there’s so much more to today than feeling good for performing.

It may feel like it’s enough, but I assure you it is not, and I pray we may continue the work, together, as we take actionable steps toward unity and love.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. You make me so incredibly proud.

    1. Thank you for your constant encouragement and support. Love you!!

  2. Very thoughtful essay. I appreciate the counsel, and the inspiration to listen more, to speak out more.

    1. Thank you, Laura!!

  3. Thanks for being brave. I’m white and I don’t even begin to understand what black and brown people face every day. But I seek to support and fight for justice. Thank you for giving me knowledge and understanding.

    1. Thank you Jenn, for your thoughtful response and for being willing to lean in and learn!


  4. Love this, sis!! So good!

    Thank you so much for always speaking truth from your heart. May we all move through the world with such grace and radical love. There is much work to do, and together, with the help of God, I believe we can…

    In Solidarity & Love,


    1. Thank you, E!! Glad to know we’re not fighting this fight alone!!

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