Article Title

Guilty Bystanders


Chad Flanders


There is a part of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail that always catches me up short, and which I now think of as at the heart of the essay: not King's civil disobedience, not his claim that an unjust law is not a law, but his anger at the character he termed the "white moderate."' It was bad, King said, when the public called him and his allies "niggers" and when the police hosed them down in the street. But what really pained King was that so many well-meaning whites stood by and did nothing. In fact, it was to these people that King was really addressing his letter. I remembered this part of King's letter again when reflecting on the AutoAdmit controversy-another controversy not without its share of racial epithets. I was pretty much a bystander to the whole thing. I wasn't the target of any vicious postings; I wasn't threatened, not personally, nor was my race or gender targeted. I didn't post anything on autoadmit.com myself (vicious, virtuous, or otherwise). Indeed, I hadn't really heard of AutoAdmit before the controversy erupted. For most of the drama, then-from the initial outrage, to the e-mail discussions and the meetings (none of which I attended) and then to the various scattered but coordinated responses-I was off to the side and off the stage, neither a victim nor an author of the threats. I felt happy playing that role, happy to let things pass me by.

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