21 Signs You or Your Organization May Be the White Moderate Dr. King Warned About
This week we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose teachings have often been beacons of light for our sector. As we transition into something resembling hope and renewal with this incoming presidential administration, I encourage us to reflect on the words Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, where he warned of the “white moderate” being the biggest barrier toward social justice. He said:
“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.”
I had written about this earlier, quoting the same passage, but I think it’s important we explore it further. Regrettably, nonprofit and philanthropy have in many ways become one giant white moderate sector. It is filled with good people who want to advance justice and help create an equitable society, yet we often get in our own way. We may have the same dreams as MLK, but so many of our good intentions serve to further the very injustice we claim to be fighting.
Here are a few ways you or your organization or foundation may be perpetuating this sort of well-meaning white moderation that’s preventing progress. This list, aggregated from colleagues across the sector, is not comprehensive. Also, all of us, including people of color, are prone to many of these because this is what we have been taught. We all need to constantly examine ourselves and make adjustments:
There’s plenty more.
Please add in the comment section. And feel free to disagree. This week, and the rest of 2021, it’s not good enough just to post inspiring quotes by MLK.
We all need to reexamine our actions to see which ones align with equity and justice, and fix the stuff we do that don’t.