Tuesday, October 25, 2005

May the Legacy Live On

I expect very few people won't have heard or read about Rosa Parks' passing before coming to see this page. As I ponder what to say about this legendary American, I do so with some trepidation. As a white person, I will never fully understand the impact created by this one person's decision not to give up her seat on the bus. As a person born after the main thrust of the civil rights movements of the 1960's, I can only look upon the changes made during those turbulent times with a certain detachment, never fully knowing what the world was really like when segregation was a legal "fact of life" in America.

Not that the work is finished, by any means. Now, almost 50 years after Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man, it is clear that racism is alive and well for many. What does the following scenario say about me, for example?

Today I read the news of the latest "Left Behind" movie, which admittedly I've not seen (nor have I read the books, although I have seen the movie based on the first book of the series), and read that Louis Gossett, Jr. will be playing the U.S. President. My first reaction is not that he represents better equality (as a black U.S. President, something which has never happened in reality, and very rarely happens in movies and television), but rather that, as a representative of those "left behind," the writers depict a black U.S. President as someone who wasn't as good as all those who were raptured.

Now, to be fair, it may be that this black U.S. President is one of those who come to Christ after the rapture. Since I haven't read the book (nor seen his portrayal in this, the third movie), I don't know. I have merely assumed that this movie, produced by people following the lead of a book representing a theology I strongly disagree with, portrays a black U.S. President as if to say "See? This is why we need to keep white people in positions of power!"

It may be that my assumption is entirely accurate, but what does it say about my own prejudices that I would make this assumption before getting more information? Does it betray my own racist fears? Does it demonstrate that I'm so blinded by more conservative viewpoints that I can't see when they actually do something right? I'm not at all sure, but I want to make sure that if I protest this kind of portrayal of blacks in the media (conservative Christian or otherwise), I do so for the right reasons, rather than acting on the basis of my own biases.

When asked how she found the courage to stand up to the law and keep her seat on the bus, Ms. Parks is often quoted as saying, "my feet were tired." She certainly didn't seek to start a revolution. But nonetheless, she stood up for what was right and courageously refused to back down. It is my prayer that her legacy will cause more of us to stand up for what is right and fight against racism, not only in the world around us, but also as we look within ourselves.

UPDATE: Slacktivist offers some information suggesting that the above "tale of the tired feet" is a myth, and that the bravery shown by Ms. Parks was in fact no accident. If true, this only serves to make her decision to keep her seat, now understood to be intentional, even more courageous, and her legacy even more worth preserving.

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