Discrimination – King Speech 2005

Speech by Rev. Harcourt Klinefelter

“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother (without cause) shall be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council. And whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and the come and offer your gift.”

Matthew 5:22-23

In light of the present situation in the world since the beginning of the millennium and especially here in this land since the murders Pim Fountuin and Theo van Gogh, perhaps of all the bible texts is this most fitting.

As my New Testament professor at Yale Divinity School, Sherman E. Johnson, explained:

“The essential meaning of the verse is clear. Murder is a result of anger; and Jesus would prevent crimes of violence by rooting out elements in man’s character which make him kill. A first century rabbi is quoted as saying, “He who hates his neighbour, behold he is one who belongs to the shedders of blood.” The difference is that Jesus proposes to take vigorous action against anger.”  *

If we are to stop all forms of murderous attacks and other forms of violence we must get to the real causes in peoples minds that lead to such actions and not just fight the symptoms. It is not enough to want to punish the offenders. We need to fight the mentality that gives rise to people thinking that they have the right to take law into their own hands.  This mentality feds on fear and is can be cultivated by unscrupulous leaders who exploit person’s disposition to prejudice, in fact everyone’s distribution to prejudice.

We all discriminate and are discriminated against.

  • This happen is different ways;
  • consciously or unconsciously
  • intentionally or unintentionally
  • openly or covertly
  • face to face or behind one’s back
  • negatively or positively

The way in which we discriminate or are discriminated against is determined by the culture were in we have been brought up or where we find ourselves now.

The objects of discrimination or prejudice can in the one culture seen as negative and positive in another.

I was surprised to find that having red hair in the Dutch culture is something which children are teased about in school. This form of discrimination I have never experienced in America.

Here in the Netherlands, where I have been living for over 3 decades, I am subject to both positive and negative discrimination simply because I am seen as a symbol of the land where I happened to be born.

Positively by those how remember the liberation of the Netherlands in Second World War.

Negatively by those who remember the Vietnam War or what is happing in Guantanamo

Even though I have worked with Dr. King for two years, lived in the ghetto and have be fighting against racism with my hart and soul for decades, I can not say that I am completely free from racism. I can only say that I am more aware of my unconscious racist traits and can continue to fight them. If one says he had no prejudices he or she is like an alcoholic who says he doesn’t have a problem with drinking. Only when an alcoholic recognizes and admits he or she has a problem is he then on the road to recovery. This is true of all forms of discrimination, not only racism but sexism, and all forms of stereotyping.

As Dr. King said “We see men as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Chinese or American, Negroes or whites. We fail to think of them I as fellow human beings made from the same basic stuff as we, moulded in the same divine image.”

Dr. King realised that we are all caught up in systems of prejudice that unconsciously shape our behaviour.

In groups individuals act differently and say and do things that they most likely never would do on their own. Whether this is in an army, lynch party, riot or shouting anti-Semitic slogans at a soccer match.

Perhaps the worst of this is that power hungry political leaders make use of these systems of prejudice to further their own selfish desires.  Hitler was not the first and also not the last.

Terrorists the world over are doing the same. But not only are the terrorists using this technique of manipulating these prejudicial systems, other cunning politicians are doing much the same in the name of saving the nation from such attacks by taking away freedoms in the name of security.

During the war in ex-Yugoslavia I was engaged in putting in to practice what I had learned from Dr. King by teaching non-violent conflict resolution skills to clergy men and women in mixed religious groups in Croatia Bosnia and Serbia.

In all three lands I heard the same thing. “We can live with each other in peace. It’s the politicians who are making the war.”

I experienced there what I had also learned in and saw in the Civil Rights and Peace movements.  That in spite of all the hatred and atrocities committed on both sides, there were always people who did not march to the music of hate but listened to another Drummer.

I found that there were persons who risked their lives to help others that were seen as the enemy. There were Christians who helped Moslems and vice verse. There were Serbs who helped Croatians or the other way around.

Strangely enough the closer to the fire of battle they were the more they were apt to be forgiving.

These people were able to see through the stereotypes that were as an epidemic around them. Perhaps because they had experience the horrors of war in their lives they could sympathise with the victims on the other side. I place of hating the enemy, they hated war itself.

Dr. King said that of all of the admonitions of Jesus the most difficult to follow was to love your enemies.

Yet here in lies the most effective medicine for the insidious and very infectious diseases of prejudice that if not properly treated can lead to death on a wide scale. I chronic forms can it maim and cause much suffering.

Just as we thought we had wiped out Small Pox, the Plague and Polio new epidemic mortal diseases have appeared such as Aids.  So is it with the epidemics of social diseases of discrimination. New targets of the disease are to be found in various organs over the whole body of the world. We saw the devastations of germs of prejudice in its most acute form of anti-Semitism in Germany earlier. It is still chronic all over the world even in this land known for its healthy climate of tolerance.  In the form of Racism based on skin colour the thanks to the medicine of the doctor Martin Luther King the most devastating acute form of Segregation in America is over. Likewise in its last vestige van Apartheid in South Africa. Yet it is chronically resident in all lands even here, as people in the room can personally testify.  

The new epidemic to be compared to Aids is the disease of religious prejudice especially in the form of Islamic phobia.

For century’s latent and some acute as in the Crusades and in the Inquisition it is again rampart. Some suspect that it is quaked in some germ warfare laboratory. 

Although the murders of Pim Fortuin and Theo van Gogh were not racist attacks as such, they sparked all kinds of latent racist’s feelings and now these have reached wild fire proportions.  This is especially true with regard to Moslem immigrants and refugees in general.

However we can never wipe out disease as such, we must not despair in trying to fight as many diseases of prejudice and discrimination as we can. With the new forms of antibiotics of non-violence we have made astounding progress. We are marching on.  Our feet may be weary but our souls are rested.

As a young girl said on the Selma march said, the nurses out there they waited on me and she came and she say (said) `Little girl are you going to march today?’ I say (said) `Sure I am? All those blisters?’ I say (said) `There not hurting, only when I stop’.

Zo we can not stop. As Dr. King said,

Among the moral imperatives of our time, we are challenged to work all over the world with unshakable determination to wipe out the last vestiges of racism. .(and discrimination) . . Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries.

If Western civilization does not now respond constructively to the challenge to banish racism, some future historian will have to say that a great civilization died because it lacked the soul and commitment to make justice a reality for all men.

* The Interpreters Bible, vol. 7 pg. 295

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