Skip to content

‘Sign of Respect’

Good morning. From pop stars to presidents, everyone has been paying their respects to Aretha Franklin, who died this week.

That word ‘RESPECT’ is emblematic of her life, all the way from her roots – singing gospel music in the Detroit church of her minister father – to becoming the Queen of Soul, one of the most famous recording artists of all time.

But one song stands out from them all.

‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T         Find out what it means to me…’

That 1967 track broke out of pop culture and became both an anthem for women demanding equality – and a battle cry for African-Americans in the civil rights movement.

‘We could feel our history in Aretha Franklin’s voice,’ said former President Obama this week, ‘… our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect.’

She said herself that Respect was the one song she’d want to be remembered for.

‘It’s not just about me or the civil rights movement or women,’ she explained. ‘People want respect… as people we deserve respect from one another.’

When you’ve grown up – as she did – where the majority white culture sees you as second class, respect is tied up with your dignity and rights.

None of us want to be dissed – disrespected – all of us want our equality and dignity recognised.

And even the simplest, most unlikely sign of respect, can be revolutionary.

An ordinary moment signalling that every human soul deserves reverence.

When the Anglican priest Trevor Huddleston was teaching in Sophiatown – in 1940’s racist South Africa – his path crossed with a nine year old boy, standing in the street with his mother.

She was a cook and cleaner at a school for the blind and – according to the structural racism of the day – he should have ignored her.  Instead the tall, English vicar took off his hat to greet the boy’s mother.

‘I couldn’t believe my eyes,’ recalled the boy. ‘A white man who greeted a black working class woman!’

The boy was Desmond Tutu and he called this experience ‘the defining moment in my life’.

It was to have a deep effect on his spirituality and – as he grew up to become a leader in the fight against apartheid – this moment, on an obscure street corner, would quietly shape the future of his country.

Hats are rarely doffed these days but still we can witness a myriad ways in which people signal respect for stranger & friend.

It may be less about giving up our seat and more about giving up our power.

Or paying attention while another talks.

Or patiently noticing the dignity in someone with a profound learning disability.

Or collaborating for change with those whose rights are not recognised.
Showing respect may not always deliver respect from others… but in giving others respect we respect ourselves.

Pursue righteousness and mercy … reads the good book…  and find R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

(BBC R4 Thought For The Day, Saturday August 18, 2018)