Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Rozeman: MLK was right about racial justice

by BIZ Magazine

No one can argue with the success of the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to positively impact racial justice in America. The movement is built on the foundation that all men are created equal by our Creator and are due equal opportunities in a free society. The leaders of this movement changed hearts through self sacrifice and courage.

The civil rights movement was built on a foundation of bringing people together to live in brotherhood across racial differences. The foundation of the movement in the 60’s was the equal importance of all God’s children. Dr. King’s dream held the personal hope that his “four little children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of the skin but by the content of their character”.

Over the last several months, there has been a renewed discussion in America about race and specifically about critical race theory. The principles differs significantly from that of Dr. King as it is built on a focus on racial groups or “tribalism” rather than relationships between individuals.

The critical race theory approach to race relations reduces people to their racial essence and judges them by their racial identity rather than by individual character, behavior, and merit. The theory gives little attention to what we could do to build positive relationships across racial barriers. In fact, it seems to do the opposite.

Conversations about critical race theory have worked their way into the boardrooms of government, business, and non-profit organizations. As a physician, this came closer to home this summer when the American Medical Association passed a strategic plan entitled “Embed Racial Justice and Advance Health Equity”.

This AMA plan to embed racial justice defines a focus on individuals, historical perspective, meritocracy, and American exceptionalism as a “series of malignant narratives”. These “malignant narratives” are deemed racist ideas though it is hard to imagine the physician-patient relationship without a focus on the individual and historical perspective or excellence in health systems without a focus on meritocracy.

There is no doubt our country has a dark side to its history. The treatment of indigenous people, slavery, and Jim Crow remain deep scars. KKK marches and the Tulsa race massacre occurred only a century ago and it was a century between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Act that ended the systemic racism of Jim Crow.

Today there is no support in America for systemic racism. In good faith, America attempts to live up to its creed that “all men are created equal”. Civil rights activist Shelby Steele noted “America has made more progress in the last 60 years regarding race than any nation, country, or civilization in history”. From a personal perspective, I have seen this transformational improvement in race relations over my lifetime.

Dr. King articulated a dream that “the sons of former slaves and former slave owners would be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood”. He said “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”

It is hard to focus on the difference between black and white when working hard to build a better world for our children, grandchildren, and each other. Hate, prejudice, and lack of forgiveness disappear when answering Dr. King’s “most persistent and urgent question: What are you doing for others?”

When we work together, we don’t have the time and energy to demonize each other. We don’t have time to divide into the oppressed and oppressor. We don’t have time to focus on the past. We are too busy focusing on the present and the future.

Our Sunday School lesson this past Sunday was from the life of Job. Job asked in Job 28:20 “Where then does wisdom come from and where is understanding located?” God’s answer in Job 28 was “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom”. Micah 6:8 poses the question “What does the Lord require of you?” The answer is “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God”.

God’s plan for us mixes seeking justice with grace and mercy and instructs us to treat others as we want to be treated. That is the foundation of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to build a strong foundation for racial justice.

The foundation principles of critical race theory are not the same as Dr. King’s focus on love, forgiveness, justice, and mercy. The civil rights movement of the 60’s ultimately built bridges between racial groups while critical race theory builds separating walls.

We need to remember the principles, process, and results of the civil rights movement of the 60’s as we continue to improve race relations in our community and our country. This is not the time to go in the opposite direction away from the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The better approach is to open our hearts to embrace what he taught us.

Dr. Phillip Rozeman is a practicing cardiologist. He is past chairman of the Shreveport Medical Society and Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce. He is a co-founder of the Magnolia Charter School of Excellence and is past recipient of the annual “Spirit of Martin Luther King Award” for the city of Shreveport.

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