By Michelle E. Armster
True peace is not merely the absence of conflict. True peace is the presence of justice.
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Recently, I was asked to speak at the annual meeting of a local organization that is an “association of …Christian laity, clergy and congregations dedicated to promoting biblical values of justice, peace and nonviolent solutions to conflict.”
Although I have been aware of the group, my involvement with them has been limited to attending special events or serving on a committee for a special project. In the past, I had been approached to serve on the Board. However, after making inquiries and taking time to look into the organization, I declined. One of the reasons that I declined is that I have become weary and guarded about being the only person of color and one of a very few women on Boards. In these settings, inevitably, I am called upon to answer the same questions:
- Why are there not more people of color- and, in my case, I assume people of African Descent- involved?
- How do we get more people of color involved?
- Don’t people of color care about these issues?
First, I suggested that the lack of people of color in their organization and attending their events is because how the issues are articulated do not relate to the lived reality for persons of color in the US. Unless the peace movement wants to be relevant and inclusive, it must recognize that it must also include and connect to domestic issues of violence and injustice. For example, if we are speaking strongly against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians or we deplore the treatment and displacement of women and children because of the atrocities of the Sudanese government or we lament the war and its devastation of Afghani and Iraqi civilians, then we should be just as virulent in our response to the environmental racism, here in the US, that allows toxic waste dumps to be constructed and unregulated in poor and communities of color. We would fight for equity in sentencing in the judicial system. A prime example of this is the sentencing disparity that is apparent in drug cases. POC are 13% of the consumers of drugs, yet they constitute 62% of the prison population. When the mandatory sentence for an ounce of crack (poor person’s cocaine) is greater than the sentence for a pound of cocaine- this is a justice issue.
Second, I challenged the group to make the connections. In Where Do We go from Here: Chaos or Community, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote:
All are interdependent… whether we realize it or not, each of us live lives eternally “in the red.” We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women. When we arise in the morning, we go into the bathroom where we reach for a sponge, which is provided for us by a Pacific Islander. We reach for soap that is created for us by a European. Then, at the table we drink coffee, which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese or cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs, we are already beholden to more than half the world… the agony of the poor impoverishes the rich: the betterment of the poor enriches the rich… whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.In other words, we need to connect our consumption of oil and the belief that we are entitled to comforts to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. We need to connect the issue of immigration to industrial globalization in which corporations and countries from the 1/3 world have decimated the natural resources and produce of the 2/3 world.
At the end of my speech, it was quiet. However, later, I was approached by members of the organization. Some indicated that they had never thought of the points that I made. Others commented that they appreciated my speech. My hope is, for those of us who are called to building peace, we would be open and willing to recognize the parts we play in perpetuating violence and conflict.