Dying of a Curable Disease

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was held August 28, 1963. It was the day after I turned nine, two months before my family moved from Pasadena to Oxnard and three months before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Slowly, over years, I became increasingly aware of American realities of class, race and justice, power and privilege. Some things were in front of my face, but I just couldn’t see them, until I began to see. Then I couldn’t look away.

As a student, I read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” It was a measured, eloquent response to patronizing ministers, who, like Job’s friends, gathered around his sufferings and verbalized their own misinformed conclusions.

Televisions showed us frightening symptoms of our diseased condition, as fire hoses and badged men with clubs and fierce dogs were set on Black men and women who peacefully objected to America’s failure to keep her promises.

One thinks of the French philosopher Montesquieu’s words, “It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men, because, allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christian.”

I once had a job cleaning a college library. During that time, I had access to Dr. King’s work and read his sermons, speeches and writings. I was deeply moved by his words and thoughts:

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“Again, we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifices. Capitalism was built on the exploitation of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor, both black and white, both here and abroad.”

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”

It is exactly because I have so much to learn, that over the years, in trips to Memphis, I’ve spent many hours at the National Civil Rights Museum at the former Lorraine Motel, the site of King’s assassination. It has a strange kind of gravity, touching and troubling, weighty and sobering. It demands attention. I find myself trying to learn the right lessons, listening to find my own humanity, my place in all this; why I am and we are here at all.

Recently, I read an excerpt from Pastor Andy Stanley’s book, Not In It To Win It: Why Choosing Sides Sidelines the Church: “The moment our love for or concern for country takes precedence over our love for people in our country we are off mission. When saving America diverts energy, focus and reputation away from saving Americans, we no longer qualify as the ekklesia [church]. We’re merely political tools. A manipulated voting demographic. A photo op… We give up the moral and ethical high ground.”

Mr. McConnell and others may argue we never owned slaves, that we have not personally done these terrible things. Therefore, no one needs to own this. It was simply handed down to us.

But this disease is a current, active, global ailment that has crossed seas, continents and generations. It has symptoms and cause. Blindness is one symptom, presenting also denial, indifference and a complete absence of appropriate shame. It neither loves God first and above all, nor our neighbor in any likeness to the way we love ourselves. It is both veiled and reinforced by misguided religion.

At its essence, at the root, white supremacy is an inherited consequence of white coveting. It leaves its own heirs obsessed with keeping and conserving power, advantage and whatever remains of the loot, that by murder and unspeakable cruelty was taken from others to become ours. The world suffered and suffers greatly as a result. But this is a man-made and curable disease.

America has not yet experienced its final judgement. Our wealth, power and pride have not been stripped away. But time has not washed our hands or absolved us, either. So, why are ideas of American reset, of restoration, and justice unthinkable to so many?

Why? Because, what was at the root then remains now, and we will not confess it. This is why exposure frightens us and makes us more dangerous, even though the truth of all this can begin to free us and cure our disease.

When the only now that matters is our own, the now of others is ignored. Our collective potential is hindered. But all we have is now. The patient is on the table. Why wait to make this right? Why?  Dr. King said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”

By Frank Robinson

2 thoughts on “Dying of a Curable Disease

  1. Not only do I love the title ( Dying of a Curable Disease) the content is impressive & contains a great social impact. Especially for those who can understand the heart felt words of the writer.
    Why die from something you can actually cure. Hmmm, makes you wonder, why embrace and hold on to a disease that can kill you instead of Eradicating it. Why would anyone in their right mind embrace Cancer instead of cutting it out.
    Thank You for your encouraging words and inspiration to face the disease and also to help others with their diagnosis and treatment.
    Much Love!


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