As we each wrestle with our own place in our country’s national discourse on race, and try to navigate our personal responsibility vis-a-vis racism, I still believe we have much to learn from Heschel. In 1963 at the National Conference on Religion and Race, the conference where Heschel and King first met, Heschel offered the following caution to American Jews:
There are several ways of dealing with our bad conscience. (1) we can extenuate our responsibility; (2) we can keep the Negro out of our sight; (3) we can alleviate our qualms by pointing to the progress made; (4) we can delegate the responsibility to the courts; (5) we can silence our conscience by cultivating indifference; (6) we can dedicate our minds to issues of a far more sublime nature.
58 years later, we can look to Heschel’s cautions, and identify the normative habits of mind that have become deeply ingrained in our culture. It is hard to hold the truth that we have all managed to find ways to comfort our consciences in the face of inequity. Yet, we do not help ourselves or the cause of justice if we allow ourselves to become numbed by the weight of our own guilt.