Fordham professor explores King’s legacy, modern civil rights movements
Nicole Caratas | Thursday, March 23, 2017
In the midst of increased race-related activism across the United States, Fr. Bryan Massingale, professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, spoke at Saint Mary’s on Wednesday about the new civil rights movement in America and redeeming the American soul.
Massingale said he tried to come up with a depiction of a racially just society, but was unable to do so.
“I am not able to know what a racially just society would look like, or a just society at all, as it is something that I and none of us have ever experienced,” he said. “Trying to envision somewhere in advance of no where is an extremely difficult task.
“What are we striving for, what do we stand for, what is the goal of the struggle for justice, for the struggle against social evils based on disparaging of differences based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity? What does justice look like, what does justice feel like? Such questions take us beyond abstract intellectualizing and move us into the realm of animating visions, guiding ideals and sustaining dreams, yet these questions are of great urgency.”
Massingale said he would not attempt to answer these questions, but he turned to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to begin to address them, referencing King’s principle of the soul of a nation.
“Dr. King viewed the mission of the Southern Leadership Conference as being the transformation of a society, not merely social change,” he said. “King knew that America’s problem was bigger than legal segregation of Jim or Jane Crow. Because the country’s long and dark history of genocide, slavery and segregation, he knew that without a moral transformation, racism would continue to mutate into different forms even after legal segregation was dismantled.”
Segregation in America ended, Massingale said, but integration has failed. He said this could be seen in the way American cities were laid out — predominantly African-American communities tended to be separated from predominantly white communities.
“To redeem the soul of America, what King meant was we have to go deeper beyond superficial surface changes, laws and customs,” he said. “Those are necessary, they’re important, but they’re only a first step. The true solution to the nation’s problems requires a transformation in moral values. It requires articulating what those values of the nation are.”
Massingale said King’s principles could be seen even in modern movements, especially the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Racism is a soul sickness,” Massingale said. “It’s a profound warping of the human spirit, one that enables human beings to create communities of cold, callous indifference towards their darker sisters and brothers. Stripped to its core, racism is that disturbing interior disease that enables people to not care for those that don’t look like them.”
Massingale said the way to fully solve the issue of racism is more than just political policy, but more a matter of changing the country’s morals.
“The problem we face in America is not that we have a President Trump,” he said. “President Trump is us. He’s the American psyche — our shadow side on steroids. He simply reflects our ambivalence toward the weak, our pursuit of national strength, our belief in American exceptionalism, the belief that we are special in a way that no one else in the world is. So removing Trump alone. … will not solve the problem. We have to interrogate the American soul.”
People have the power to make the changes necessary to end racism, Massingale said.
“Social life is made by human beings,” he said. “The society we live in is the result of human choices and decisions. That mean that human beings can change things.”