Commentary

Columnist: Bigoted and small-minded are on the wrong side of history

In case you missed it, there was a great and hopeful essay in Sunday’s Fayetteville Observer by physician J. Wayne Riggins that ought to be a “must read” for caring and and thinking people everywhere — particularly in light of yesterday’s horror in Orlando. The central message: we haven’t yet overcome ignorance and bigotry, but we will get there.

After citing MLK’s famous reassuring observation quote about the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice, Riggins puts it this way:

“And I think of reassurance; reassurance because, 10 brutally tough years later, when Dr. King led the march from Selma to Montgomery, he was exhausted and troubled. Troubled by the tragedies of “Bloody Sunday,” troubled by the political turmoil surrounding the march, troubled by the obvious risks, and troubled by the burden that fell to him, to reassure the faithful – and perhaps himself.

So his ‘How long, not long’ speech was born of that. The need to reassure the faithful that perseverance would be rewarded, that great sacrifice would bring great relief, that the arc was long but bent toward justice. To this day those words bring me great comfort.

When a gay man can be married on Sunday and fired for it on Monday, I need that reassurance.

When politicians would rather feed our children lead than give their parents the truth, I need that reassurance.

When North Carolina legislators would rather pay for incarceration than pay for education, I need that reassurance.

When a presidential candidate says he’d be uncomfortable voting for a Muslim to lead the country founded on religious tolerance, I need that reassurance.

When legislatures make it easier to buy a gun and harder to cast a vote, I need that reassurance; because our guns are not our most powerful weapons, our votes are.

And this past March, when our General Assembly targeted transgender Americans, some of the most troubled and courageous among us, and attacked their dignity, I needed to be reminded; reminded by Dr. King, that the arc is long, but bends toward justice. It gives me reassurance when I need it most.

And finally, I think of redemption.

Redemption, because in 1965 if the march to Montgomery had been the march to Jacksonville, my birthplace, my family could have been in the throngs that vilified the righteous, that deplored their courage.

It was in their hearts.

I know that.

So, the circle of life has graciously offered me this chance to transcend the transgressions of my forebears. Though I can’t right those wrongs, I have been given the privilege, the duty, to find my own grace, to help bend that arc.

That’s why I write.

I write to remind us all that the arc of justice will place the bigoted and small-minded among us on the wrong side of history. I write in the belief that we are better than that. Those of us who share this belief must help bend the arc. We owe it to those who preceded us and those who will follow.”

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