I salute Lynne Hamer, PhD,
and Monroe Street United Methodist Church on their third
annual community reading of Martin Luther King’s famous
“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech, given in
April 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City.
This provocative sermon
had such a profound impact on me personally that King’s
words “there comes a time when to keep silent or inactive
amounts to betrayal…. We believe that now is the time to
break the silence ….” were incorporated into my own
congregation’s founding resolution on October 12, 1997.
We are undoubtedly more
diverse in terms of race, gender, age, sexual orientation,
able-bodiedness and more since King’s sermon. Sadly,
however, little has changed even 52 years after “Silence is
Betrayal” as we have been unable to leverage our differences
to create the “beloved community” that King dreamt about.
We have far more women
legislators in the U.S. Congress than we had in 1967 or even
1997, yet women are still not safe and free from assault. We
are currently in the midst of one of the longest economic
recovery periods in American history, yet attempts by
“other-abled” persons to bless us with all of their talents
are ridiculed at the highest levels of government and
threatened with defunding.
We allocate more budget
dollars to the largest law enforcement and criminal justice
systems than ever, yet the rights of LGBTQ persons are
dishonored and the lives of black, brown, yellow and red
people are dehumanized and disrespected in a manner that
suggests the lives of some people don’t matter, at least in
comparison with those historically privileged by race or
And the worst thing about
it all, perhaps, is that we have lost the fire of
indignation that was present in us in 1967 or 1997 and
replaced it with a laid-back obliviousness.
General Motors’ Toledo
Powertrain Plant (among other local organizations) has been
the site of entrenched black-white racial tensions
manifested by a culture of racial harassment and bullying.
There has been an abundance of local and national media
coverage of nooses, swastikas, and “whites only” signs being
exhibited in the plant, all against a persistent backdrop of
racial lampooning, jokes and name calling.
We also know, according to
the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, that GM (other than an
offer of diversity training by the Ohio Attorney General and
a $25,000 GM reward), has not “properly addressed” the
culture of discrimination and intimidation that it has long
In fact, the Ohio Civil
Rights Commission says that GM demonstrated “indifference”
to what was going on in its plant.
Indifference! To nooses
and swastikas, from the General Motors corporation!
Not the hot fire of an
active, enthusiastic, powerful counter response to the
plant-wide backlash to the diversifying of America? Nor the
sincere remorse of an organization that understands that it
does bear some responsibility to the culture that has
allowed these racial tensions to survive, thrive and poison
the entire workplace?
Oh, it makes me want to
HOLLER! And throw up both my hands!
Instead, the Ohio Civil
Rights Commission suggests that the mammoth-sized General
Motors Corporation – the one that was rescued from the brink
of bankruptcy by America’s first and only African-American
president, and its labor union - with its glorious history
of engagement during the civil rights struggle, have been
accused of acting as if they are oblivious to or ignorant of
the culture of hate that has taken over its Powertrain
Indifference is a terrible
malady. That’s why silence is betrayal.
So, we celebrate Lynne
Hamer and Monroe Street Church’s Silence Is Betrayal
Not because racial
injustice has been relegated to a thing of the past. We do
so to remind ourselves that our ideals do not yet match our
And until they do, we must
not be silent anymore.
Stop the racial
harassment. Stop the bullying. Stop the hate.
Replace them with a
culture of inclusion, diversity, tolerance, justice and
And, as King also said,
“the time is always right to do the right thing.”
Contact Rev. Donald
Perryman, PhD, at