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Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.*

At the beginning of this Maxim Monday enterprise I wrote about “being overcome by justice”, and its intersection with the 2nd principle of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  In it, I quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. a couple of times.  Somehow in a stroke of kismet or coincidence, I picked its companion maxim for Martin Luther King Day, not really thinking about the timing, until just before I sat down to write.  I had an entirely different post in mind until then…something in line with service (which I’ve talked about before) as a form of practicing justice…

The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.*

I think that this maxim happens to be one that Martin Luther King, Jr. might have been a fan of.

practice what is just

I’m not sure there is much I can say on this subject though, that he didn’t say.  And on that matter, I’d prefer to let him speak for himself.

There will be hundreds of posts and articles and news clips on Martin Luther King today, as a historical figure, as an icon for justice and civil rights, and as a husband and father.  I encourage everyone to watch or read them–the Civil Rights era is an important period of our time that we could all use to be more cognizant of…but this post is not about that, not precisely.

I think we all can agree that practicing justice is a good thing to do, even if we differ on what that means in our own lives, and how we feel compelled to express it.  Men (and women) like Martin Luther King do (and have done) a far better job of orating and demonstrating how we can be more just than I will ever be capable of doing.  But what I can do–probably my most important contribution towards bending the universe towards justice, is to teach my children what it means to be overcome by justice and to practice what is just, by talking to them about justice and our failings in living justly with honesty and integrity to the best of my ability and demonstrating just actions in my dealings with them and others.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.*

Today my Chickadee asked me a very serious question that I wasn’t quite ready to answer,”Why did a white man kill Martin Luther King? Is it because he was black?”  For an almost six year old, this is a serious question that she just didn’t know the answer to.  But for me…this question was just a little bit heartbreaking.

Just last week, my baby girl though of skin color as nothing more than nature’s Crayola box.  Just last week, my baby girl would tell you that “I’m not white, I’m peach” and would correct anyone that might suggest her bus buddy with brown skin was “black”.  As far as she was concerned, our skin colors were no more significant than the colors of flowers, and they should be accurately described.  In a mostly white neighborhood, the most significant physical trait of her bus buddy was not the color of her skin, but that “Miss M has ponytails that are better than mine because they have poof.”

And now, not only did she want to know about The Man With A Dream (as she has taken to calling Martin Luther King)–a question much easier to answer than what would follow, but she wanted to know  why someone would be mean to someone for having a different color of skin.  And then she wanted to know why people would think that they were better than other people for having a different color of skin.  And then she wanted to know why people had owned other people.  And she wanted to know why we are white, when we are really peach, and why people that are brown are called black, and why any of that matters, because we are all just people.  And then she wanted to know if having white skin made people do bad things.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.*

…And I had a hard time answering some of her questions.  I was raised in a family where skin color was treated like eye color…and I come from a place of racial privilege–I’ve experienced prejudice, but never on the basis of my skin color, and never as overt as that sort of prejudice can be.  I might intellectually understand that racism exists and where it stems from (we *do* do Civil War reenacting), but I don’t really understand the depths of hatred that it can and has descended to–I don’t get that kind of hatred, and I sure as hell don’t want my children to.  I might be guilty of saying something that is prejudiced simply because I come from a place of racial privilege, but that would be/would have been from ignorance, and not maliciousness (and I sincerely apologize if that has ever happened).

How do you explain all of that to a six year old?  Especially a six year old with a heart like butterfly wings (seriously, the kiddo gets upset at the idea of hurting someone’s feelings on accident), especially when there are six year olds around the world that LIVE this, on a daily basis. And if not now, from us, when and how will this lesson be taught?

The Hubby and I did our best to explain that people’s minds and hearts can and do change over time.  And that people that lived a long time ago had different ideas of what was right and wrong from ours, and that even then they argued over what was right and wrong like we do today.  Just because something was right (or wrong) then, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way…as our sense of morality grows into one that is more compassionate and more just, we can change what we do and say to be more equitable and to embrace equality…not just on a basis of race, but everywhere, for every quality that makes us different from one another.

We tried to tell her that sometimes people are afraid of people and things that are different from what they see or do on a daily basis and that sometimes people are afraid of change.  That sometimes when people are afraid, they think they need to fight against what they don’t understand, that the fear makes them hate, that the hate can poison their hearts, that poisoned hearts can make them do bad things.  We talked about the fact that people are just people, different and beautiful for it.  We talked about Martin Luther King, and that he believed in justice for all people that were disadvantaged, whether it be because of skin color, or economic status, or any of the other things that divide us, and we watched The Man With a Dream talk about the day when “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

I think that he might have liked to see Chickadee and Miss M skipping down the sidewalk, hand in hand, on their way for a play date.  I think that maybe, for all that practicing justice often means protesting, it can also means two heads bowed together over a coloring book, drinking cocoa, and watching My Little Pony.  Practicing justice is about doing what is right.  And what is more right than two six year olds than playing, together, oblivious to the controversies that might have stirred before they were even born?

*quotes are from Martin Luther King, Jr.