MLK speaker: 'We must celebrate the struggle'
At a campus program celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., scholar Dale Andrews also warns against the “homogenization of difference.”
A scholar of social justice told his Elon University audience on Wednesday that for American society to overcome its legacy of racism, justice isn’t enough - it requires a reconciliation where the people responsible for segregation and inequality acknowledge their own roles in fomenting oppression.
Dale P. Andrews of Vanderbilt University Divinity School, the keynote speaker at the university’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program, also implored those who weren’t responsible for slavery or Jim Crow to consider their own culpability in not acknowledging the impact those institutions continue to have on many minorities today.
“Denial of social liability for racism, or moral accountability for its generational inherited impact, has been called by scholars ‘aversive racism,’” Andrews shared during his Whitley Auditorium remarks.
Andrews also took aim at the way “multiculturalism” is defined. He argued that it tends to be a label used by those in a dominant culture to group together everyone else. It’s a recognition, he said, and not an understanding of the different experiences and values of racial, religious, sexually oriented or gender minorities.
“If it‘s just simply recognition of the other, without a justice analysis of domination and oppressive encounters, what results is those in power determine the terms for multiculturalism,” he said. “And when those in power inordinately determine the terms of multiculturalism, we have a homogenization of difference, rather than the mutual appreciation of difference.”
And at a time when lots of work must still be done to improve equality and overcome institutional and structural racism, it’s still important to celebrate how far society has advanced.
“Society must celebrate its successes over racism, sexism, homophobia and religious difference. Celebrate we must!” he said. “And in the celebration of the successes, let us celebrate the ongoing struggle. When justice is elusive, we celebrate the struggle.”
Andrews joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion in 2010. Previously he served on the faculty of Boston University School of Theology as the Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology. He was a visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford and has conducted two international study tours in Guatemala and Brazil.
An ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Andrews has served AME Zion churches in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. He has received numerous fellowships and awards for his studies. In addition to multiple chapters in diverse edited volumes and journal articles, he is the author of Practical Theology for Black Churches: Bridging Black Theology and African American Folk Religion (Westminster John Knox-WJK Press, 2002). He also co-authored Listening to Listeners: Homiletical Case Studies (Chalice Press, 2004) and New Proclamation: Advent through Holy Week, Year A, 2004-2005 (Augsburg Fortress Press, 2004).
Andrews formerly served as co-editor to the journal Family Ministry and now serves as co-editor of the journal Homiletic.
Prior to the keynote address, Elon Provost Steven House welcomed guests to the event and described parallels between the university’s most cherished values and those of the program’s namesake.
“Many traditions at Elon celebrate our campus values of community, service, respect and tolerance,” House said. “While Dr. King’s life is being remembered all across the world this week, we here at Elon hold a special connection with him because of the alignment of our values with those he also championed.”
The program recognized two winners of the university’s 2013 Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Essay Contest. Ana Villalpando, an eighth grade student at Blessed Sacrament School in Burlington, N.C., and Kaitlyn Williams, a sixth grade student at Kernodle Middle School in Greensboro, N.C., were accompanied by parents and school leaders as each was lauded for describing personal efforts to keep King’s dream of equality alive.
Sponsored by the Multicultural Center, the contest was established in 2001 to promote awareness of King’s vision for a more humane nation. It is open each year to students in Alamance and Guilford counties.
Also featured were Elon Music Ambassadors who sang “Down in the River to Pray” to open the ceremony and “Water No Get Enemy" to close the program.