“Don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have the compassion and understanding for those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight; we are always on the threshold of a new dawn.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr., “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” in Strength to Love (1958)
I am a white man who grew up in the 1960’s in Birmingham, AL. I was not taught to hate African Americans, but the atmosphere of my childhood taught me, whether anyone intended it or not, to be afraid of difference. I was given messages over and over again that African Americans and people who looked like me were different. Most of the messages were unconscious, but they landed in my soul, nevertheless.
One of those sets of messages that I received, without realizing it, was that Martin Luther King, Jr. was dangerous, a communist, and immoral. Imagine my shock, surprise, and sense of betrayal when, in college, while watching documentaries and reading his works I came to understand otherwise.
I am convinced that hatred is born of fear, but I also know that fear does not always produce hatred. Sometimes, fear, in league with curiosity, leads to love and compassion and awe. In my own journey, everything I saw of King made me want to know more. Everything I read drove me to listen more intently to his message. I still have so much to learn from him, from his words, from his example. Do I think he was perfect? No, thank goodness. Since I am not perfect, his imperfect life delivering messages of compassion, non-violence, and diligence to justice make it possible for me to believe that I can stand for and live out these things, too.
Hatred is a hard thing to face. It is a threshold, and when we stand before it, it issues us a challenge. Will I allow this present example of hatred to become the cause for my next hateful thought and act? Or, will I see that in this very dark moment, a new dawn can happen?
I can choose to refuse hatred and practice love. Martin Luther King, Jr. teaches me this. This weekend of his is a sacred time for me, a threshold of sacred time.