“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
On January 16th, every year we celebrate the life of one of the most influential social activists, Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout his journey to eradicate racial inequality and discrimination, MLK Jr. emphasized the dangers and implications of the actions of silent bystanders in instances of oppression. When someone “passively accepts evil”, they are essentially motivating and empowering perpetrators.
As a society, we tend to look the other way when faced with something that makes us uncomfortable. Whether it be on a smaller scale like looking down while walking when we see a homeless individual on the sidewalk, or pretending not to hear an abusive conversation ensuing. These actions come natural to us, as we are accustomed to a diffusion of responsibility when faced with speaking out against injustices.
On a larger scale, Ervin Staub analyzes the role of bystanders as a core concept of genocide. In society, bystanders serve to induce a change in perspectives of both the perpetrators and fellow bystanders based on critical moral and ethical reasoning. Because of this, bystanders have the potential to greatly influence the overarching attitudes surrounding the actions of groups and organizations. By reacting and acting early on in the process of oppression and destruction, this population has the ability to shift the course of the future.
As we celebrate MLK Jr. on this day, we must remember the value of our individual voices and the power we hold to influence others. Take an active role in society and advocate for those who are unable to have their voice heard. Be the one who sees something that makes them uncomfortable and interrogates, rather than turning away. Be inquisitive and challenge yourself to act courageously and sacrificially. Do all of these things because
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
– MLK Jr.