Monday, January 15, 2018, marks the birthdate and a day that many in the nation will observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the dedication and sacrifices he made as a civil rights activist. I will not use this blog to detail the important and honorable aspects of Dr. King’s life as countless details are readily available in books, online articles, magazines, videos, documentaries, and museums. I recall as a young girl being taught about Martin Luther King Jr. marching, preaching, and pushing a nation towards freedom. Dr. King is often cast as docile, peaceful and in contrast to a what some considered a more radical activist during his time, Malcolm X.
White America has created a Martin Luther King Jr. that it can stomach. White America has whitewashed Martin Luther King Jr. just enough that when it comes time to speak about race relations, Dr. King’s words are the first that they turn to, just add I Have A Dream Speech and stir. White America is quick to quote Dr. King when they are attempting to ‘put Black America in its place’ when Black America is demanding justice. White America has watered down the message of Dr. King so severely that one minute according to Trump, Africa is a shithole and the next minute Trump can quote lines from Dr. King’s I Have A Dream Speech without batting an eye.
So, before you rush to Google on Monday to search for a quote that you can tweet by Dr. King, I would ask that you look at the totality of his life and message and hold it up to the way you live your life. Do not merely quote words that make you feel good and do not challenge your thinking and actions. Do not tweet quotes that are nothing more than a Twitter performance when in actuality you have done nothing to support the causes that impact Black America. Do not use Dr. King’s quotes as a way to “check” Black America. Do not ask Black America, “What would Martin Luther King Jr. do?” when it was White America that killed him.
When you want to tell Black America, there is a better way of protesting be reminded that Dr. King said: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
When you tell Black America, “Well it’s the law,” be reminded that Dr. King said, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was legal.”
When you ask us why we are fighting for justice be reminded that Dr. King said, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”
When you are quick to speak about Dr. King’s dream be reminded that Dr. King also said, “About two years ago now, I stood with many of you who stood there in person and all of you who were there in spirit before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. As I came to the end of my speech there, I tried to tell the nation about a dream I had. I must confess to you this morning that since that sweltering August afternoon in 1963, my dream has often turned into a nightmare. I’ve seen my dream shattered as I’ve walked the streets of Chicago and see Negroes, young men, and women, with a sense of utter hopelessness because they can’t find any jobs. I’ve seen my dream shattered as I’ve been through Appalachia, and I’ve seen my white brothers along with Negroes living in poverty. And I’m concerned about white poverty as much as I’m concerned about Negro poverty.”
When you condemn Black men and women, who have fought for this country and still can’t find peace and justice in America, remember that Dr. King said, “So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”
When you question as to why we are STILL fighting for just remember Dr. King said these words over 55 years ago and not much has changed, “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”
When you want us to sit down and remain silent and just be content remember that Dr. King said, “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
When you ask Black people why we protest when our brothers and sister are murdered by the police, remember that Dr. King said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true. So we’re going to stand up amid horses. We’re going to stand up right here in Alabama, amid the billy-clubs. We’re going to stand up right here in Alabama amid police dogs, if they have them. We’re going to stand up amid tear gas! We’re going to stand up amid anything they can muster up, letting the world know that we are determined to be free!”
When you question why Colin Kaepernick is kneeling and say that you don’t disagree with him but just wish the protests were done a different way, when you ask me to “tone down” my blog so I don’t offend White people, remember Dr. King said, “First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
When you refuse to use your voice and privilege to challenge racism, when your first response to injustice is “not me” or “not all” remember Dr. King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
I challenge you on this coming Martin Luther King Jr. Day to move beyond as Dr. King’s daughter, Bernice King, stated, “#MLK Lite.” What are you doing to become the dream that Martin spoke about? How are you using your voice to spread a message of peace, love and compassion? How are you using your wisdom to educate others about racism and injustice? How are you using your privilege and power to stand up for others? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has left his legacy. What will you do to leave yours?