Martin Luther King Jr. day has become very odd to me in recent years. People who rail against peaceful protests the other 364 days of the year suddenly quote the man who became the icon for peacefully protesting inequality.
On this 33rd year of this federal holiday, I’d like to just talk to the good white folk. I know, that’s a bit ironic too, but it’s because I don’t feel qualified to speak to people of color about racial inequality. I will gladly listen, though, and that’s what I want to say to those in positions of privilege. Listen!
Today is not a day to celebrate racial equality. Today is not a day to feel good about all we’ve given black folk the right to do. Today should be an uncomfortable day, because while I am not the wokest person around (I’m not even sure that woke can be made an adjective, but I digress), let me be clear good white friends, we have not achieved MLK’s dream. We are not at the finish line. I think that is very clear these days, but I fear it needs to be said.
Moreover, we are in some of the most racially charged times of my life, at least. This is again, why I am so troubled by the disconnect I see with how we whites go about business the rest of the year and then pay lip service to this holiday celebrating a man of such radical ideals.
Here’s what I see is at least part of the problem. We still have these ingrained notations that we get to dictate what is equal “enough” for POC. We subconsciously thing we get to prescribe how they protest. We think they should be happy with what they have, i.e. what we’ve chosen to give up. And that’s not equality. That’s still supremacy, or at the very least paternalism. ….and it’s very uncomfortable to think that’s what we’re doing, but I think that introspection and sitting with these uncomfortable thoughts is more in line with the memory of MLK than just posting quotes on social media.
Personal trainers always remind us, we must get comfortable being uncomfortable. They say things like change only happens outside of your comfort zone. So, I’m encouraging my goodhearted white readers to not resist the uncomfortable truths that these tumultuous years have revealed. We haven’t been listening when POC said, we’re not there yet. We haven’t seen their struggle. We have failed them. I know, I know we weren’t being malicious in our blindness, but now we know better, and we can’t just keep sitting back and quoting MLK’s words of love and just patting POC on the head and telling them to be thankful for what they have. His legacy shouldn’t be one that makes us feel comfortable with “good enough.”
“I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up.” – Dr. King
But I’m a glass is half full kind of gal, or I try to be. So, I’m going to end on a positive, don’t you worry. See, I truly believe that these rough days are like cleaning out your closet. You know when you have pulled everything out to sort through the good, bad, and the outdated? Everything is out on the floor, and now your whole room is messy. You start questioning if you should have even begun, because it’s overwhelming and what was once a mess contained to the closet is now all over your floor and bed and there’s no going back.
I think/hope that’s what’s going on in our country. We hid away this awful history in our country. When a piece of it fell out, we kicked it back in the closet and hoped it would go away, but then boom, that ugly orange outfit that we never should have bought and tried to stuff in the top shelf came tumbling out. We’re going to have to go through this shit and determine what needs to be discarded and what “sparks joy.”
Let’s take today to realize we’re going to have to face this mess and get rid of some shit. Let’s take today to realize it’s not going to get better if we aren’t prepared to get a little uncomfortable and have uncomfortable conversations and write uncomfortable blogs and listen to things POC have to say that we don’t want to hear.!
Here are some words from the man of the day, which I cling to these days.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” -Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech.
In these racially charged days, I find comfort in many of the sentiments Dr. King articulated during his Dec. 10, 1964 acceptance speech. The above is most profound to me as I try to assure myself that we are simply in a time when right is temporarily defeated.
As long as there are resistors to inequality, evil is not triumphant and we are merely temporarily defeated.
As long as some still believe in Dr. King’s dream, evil is not triumphant.
As long as some are willing to cross over and listen to the other side, right is just temporarily defeated.
As long as some are willing to examine themselves and consider others’ experiences valid, evil has not won.
As long as some recognize equality as superior to maintaining their privileged status, evil has not won.
As long as when we know better, we do better (as Maya Angelou taught).
This may be a night “darker than a thousand midnights,” but evil is not yet triumphant.
“This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future.” – Dr. King
We are not there. We never were, and we failed people of color when some of us imagined we were.
I still believe that we can learn and understand and do better.
Reading suggestions for those who are willing to get uncomfortable:
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown