A speech I wrote for the 2017 Northwestern University campus-wide Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Contest, which I took second place. The prompt: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” -Desmond Tutu How do you interpret Tutu’s statement? How can it connect to Northwestern, and how can you apply it in the context of today’s society?
“I venture out of my home and embrace the cold world to take one of my nightly jogs. I start passing familiar sites. I pass the neighborhood school, the park, the corner store and then I take a right turn on to the next street. After jogging a few blocks I see two black silhouettes struggling in some sort of altercation. Then all of a sudden I see a bright flash light up the dark road and hear a loud bang fill the quiet night sky. Then, within seconds, one of the silhouettes tumbles to the ground while the other bolts away under the cover of the night sky and the shadows.
With caution, I proceed closer and see a young black man no older than myself clutching his chest in anguish with blood soaking his white cotton t-shirt. Beside him lies a black pistol with smoke dancing from the barrel to the nighttime sky. If I don’t help this man, he will surely die.
At this junction I have to ask myself what should I do? I have the privilege of having the ability to choose to help or to keep my head down and keep running in the hopes that it resolves itself and just forget about it. The situation clearly has nothing to do with me. But no.
If I left that man dying on the floor, it would be just as good as picking up that smoking gun and executing him right there. Thus, possibly leaving a mother and father without a son, a child without a father, and a partner without a spouse. Another young soul gone way too soon leaving households with gloom. Which is why inaction cannot be an option. It is imperative to intervene and save his life because after all. If fortunes were flipped and I laid bloodied on the ground clinging for life, would I not want someone to step in and save my life? This is a fictional account but the principle is oh so real.
At times we can find ourselves at a junction in which we look down and see a person or a group of people in dire, oppressive, or unjust situations, and we have the privilege to not be directly aversively effected by said situation. At this junction you are faced with a choice. To intervene or to keep your head down and either hope the situation resolves itself or to just ignore it. The reality of things is that regardless if you choose to not get involved, you’ve already become an actor in the situation.
The moment you become aware of the oppressive unjust state of nature at hand, your fate becomes interlocked with the oppressed and the oppressor. From then on you must choose which position you will take, because there is no middle ground. Why? Because to be neutral means to not act when you could have helped: you are either helping or hurting and the choice is yours.
Ellie Wiesel once said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” If a man pushes another man in a deep pool of water that is surrounded by people with life preservers. And these people turn their backs to this man and don’t throw in their life preservers, aren’t they as guilty as the one who pushed the man in?
There is either light or darkness and there is no intermingling in between. Light and darkness cannot exist together. Never will you be in a room in which there is a light illuminating and dancing on the walls of the room while there is also complete and utter darkness. And never will there be a situation in which darkness can consume light. No matter how dim the light nor how dark the darkness this can never happen.
No matter our race, nationality, religion, gender, orientation, or social economic standing, we all are citizens of this earth. Which is why as citizens of this earth we can’t sit idly by and let darkness reign. We must be a bright light and rid the world of darkness whenever we become aware of it, no matter how dark the darkness is. We can’t let our privilege prevent us from acting.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” These words were etched into the fabric of our existence by Desmond Tutu as Apartheid ravaged South Africa like a category  hurricane with winds unearthing the very foundation of justice in this nation, while the world stood by and placed this issue in a less important category. Saying oh.. they’ll work it out. Oh.. this isn’t our issue. Oh… we must stay neutral!
You would have thought by then we would have learned. I mean haven’t we seen this before? Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Ukraine, Darfur, Rwanda, and today in Aleppo. How many people have to die by our inactive hands before we put them to work to end injustice? Because as my late brother Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.””