Monday was a national holiday. For most of us, it was a day set aside to regard the mission and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by doing acts of goodwill. Humbly, as a Black man with deep Alabama family roots (both enslaved and slave owner), I chose to participate in service to Dr. King’s legacy by writing this opinion editorial.
Lamentably, I am pained that while Dr. King died on April 4, 1968, more than fifty years ago, the civil rights movement that he helped shepherd to the masses still struggles to fly on its own accord. But before you begin to challenge this premise, know that I will be spotlighting the federal voting rights and election protections bills that have had a longstanding connection to the civil rights movement.
The Voting Rights Act of 2021, also known as the Freedom to Vote Act, as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, are due to be voted upon this week by Congress, but it does not look promising. The stall boils down to whether the process for filibustering remains intact or not. While this is an important discussion that needs robust debate, it should not be resting on the backs of civil-minded Black folk, or any other folk. Still, it is!
Yes friends, I am saying that this situation is yet another discussion embroiled in race matters, which is another much-needed conversation that America cannot seem to address with grace. However, its shadow side—fear—continues to find its way into the center of this debate with regard to the passage of these bills through race-baiting. Sometimes the race-baiting is overt. At other times, it is covert.
Simply stated, the January 6 attack of 2021 was a by-product of race-baiting. Fearmongering has found its way into the public square. Sure, it has always been there in some small way. Disgustingly, it has been touted by many in positions of power over recent years. And while it influences us all in unhealthy and inhumane ways, the civil rights of Black folk will be unfairly impacted. AGAIN!
Mob mentality is one of the tools that undergirds this repulsive action. It has been an unfortunate, but effective tool used for many centuries in this country. It was one of the “metaphorical clubs” used to bludgeon women during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and 1693. Unfortunately, the misuse of biblical scripture was another tactic.
Furthermore, mob mentality has been used to keep the races divided as the ideological lie of white supremacy spread and shaped America’s early years. Regrettably, its remnants are still present today. Additionally, the internet is one of the vehicles used to perpetuate these divisive propagandas, which drive such a destructive mentality, often through social media platforms.
Even now, I write this piece knowing that there are countless Americans of all ethnicities, creeds, socio-economic backgrounds, and genders who are “woke” to these, and many other, injustices and are choosing to carry the mantle handed to us by Dr. King on August 28, 1963. For us, his dream is still alive.
As a person of faith, I deserve more than crumbs from the “master’s table.” In fact, all of us who are treated unjustly by institutional systems founded upon slavery, white supremacy, and capitalism are deserving of a level playing field. The passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act are a mere step in that direction. I am praying that this week Black folk begin to politically overcome.
Bentley deBardelaben-Phillips is the Executive Associate for Justice and Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ.