The Realism of Dr. King...
Happy Martin Luther King Day Educators! I hope you have been able to find a level of peace and calm to support you this weekend. Today I watched an interview where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was speaking about the current standing of the civil rights movement at the time and the “new phases” of the struggle for genuine equality. The interview occurred 11 months before his assassination and though MLK has always been held up as the non-violent dreamer, the omission of his stance and communication of what truly inhibited civil rights and justice for all perpetuates the single stories by which we paint our historical leaders. Here is an excerpt but I encourage you to listen to the full interview by clicking on this link.
“I think the other thing that we must see at this time is that many of the people who supported us in Selma and Birmingham were really outraged about the extremist behaviors toward Negroes but they were not at that moment and they are not now, committed to genuine equality for Negroes. It’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee an annual income for instance to get rid of poverty for Negroes and all poor people. It’s much easier to integrate a bus than it is to make genuine integration a reality and quality education a reality in our schools. It’s much easier to integrate even a public park than it is to get rid of slums and I think we are in a new era, a new phase of the struggle, where we have moved from a struggle for decency…to a struggle for genuine equality and this is where we‘re getting the resistance because there was never any intention to go this far. People were reacting to Bull Connor and to Jim Clark rather than acting in good faith for the realization of genuine equality.”
And today, people reacted to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Arbery, Jacob Blake, and many more but are we still where we were in 1967 during this interview? Are we simply reacting but unwilling to adjust and shift in a way that would bring temporary discomfort for some for the sake of equity and justice for all? I am not sure. It has been said that to those with privilege, equity feels like oppression. Is there a willingness to assume this feeling to move our country forward…beyond where it has stagnated?
The human condition is built on one decision and one action at a time. They all add up to what we have been facing and are facing today…a continuous undercurrent of injustice that robs this nation of achieving the greatness it claims. MLK was assassinated in April of 1968 and 52 years later…here we are with his words still as relevant today as they were back then. Still, I remain hopeful that we can assume a level of consciousness as a collective that allows us to see that what affects one affects the whole and as a result, where we are in this moment is neither acceptable nor sustainable.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” MLK – Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963)
Today…as we stand days away from one of the most contentious Inauguration days in our country’s history, I envision a world where we prioritize peace and we recognize that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is a world where we shake off ambivalence, complacency, and the indirect suggestion that others can wait for justice as some sit in spaces of privilege that leave them untouched by the extreme and consistent challenges of injustice. I envision a world where the recognition, the sight, and even a suggestion of inequity causes us all to stand firm and demand more, if not for us, then for our brothers and sisters who experience pain some of us may never know in our lifetime. I envision a world where we can invite differing paradigms of thought to the table and sit in discomfort as we seek to understand first and then to be understood.
I envision a world, a country, a city, communities, homes where we are unlearning what we considered to be love and truly learn the art and action of love and care for ourselves and our collective humanity. I envision a world where preventable, human inflicted trauma ceases to exist and where our personal and collective healing is prioritized to bring about wellness. I envision a world where love is given readily to all despite race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, citizenship status, ability, etc. A world where “you are loved because you are”.
I envision a world where we work at getting better at loving; where we interrogate our indifference and hate towards others and possibly full people groups; where we hold ourselves and one another accountable to be better versions of who we are; where we understand that love is not passive…it pushes, it challenges, it appreciates…us and then others. I envision a world where we recognize that there is so much more to learn about the depth of love and how much it is capable of accomplishing. MLK, who in his time sat within the seat of indifference, felt the blows of hate, was imprisoned 29 times and ultimately killed for what he fought for, still embraced love as the only viable approach.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” - MLK
If he can, the opportunity may still exist for each of us.
I envision a world where light uncovers truth and we are willing to consider what truly is rather than what we have been told or become accustomed to believing. A world where we are willing to challenge…media images, incomplete and negative narratives, atrocities that happen to those people but not us, the ease by which opportunities and resources are available to some but not others, the lack of representation that makes justice a reality for some and a fleeting hope for far too many. I envision a world where we begin to strip our minds of what MLK calls “the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.” That we begin to elevate a high degree of self-awareness and embrace the whole of who we are…the myriad of gifts and talents that we are nervous to reveal to the world, and the deep dark thoughts and actions that we entertain and take that remove small and/or large slivers of joy and love from the lives of others.
Years later, when asked about the march on Washington of 1963 and the dream that he spoke of that day, Dr. King stated that it was a great time of hope marked by significant progress leading to that point. He has, however, since watched as the dream that he had that day turn into a nightmare. Although he has hope for the future, he has come to see that there are many more difficult days ahead that must be tempered with a solid realism. He highlighted that the advances that were made initially did not cost the nation anything and that we are now moving into issues that cannot be solved without it costing this country something.
Closing the income and opportunity gap; cleaning up slums and ghettos created intentionally to keep black and brown folks in poverty; revamping the inequitable education system; shifting the lending and housing industries to create wealth opportunities for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). These systemic changes are those that speak to real change rather than surface adjustments. This is what we must position ourselves to create.
And so I stand, ready and willing to do my work as a black female to embrace the very active peace, love, and light that is necessary for change and to push for a collective shift that can support a different reality in our coming years. I am hopeful that in another 50 years, what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood for will no longer be a dream spoken but one realized by us, the youth of today, and generations to come.
In Solidarity and Love,