I’m going to begin by admitting that after 45’s latest comments, I was really hoping the spirit of Dr. King would swoop in and blow up the pen 45 was using as he signed the proclamation recognizing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I didn’t want the explosion to maim or injure him. I wanted it to be magic ink that would splash all over him and transform him into a person of color. I wanted him to taste the acid of his words and see injustice from that perspective. Alas, my wish did not come true (just because I practice Loving Kindness Meditation and say the Gayatri Mantra to help keep my heart open, doesn’t mean I don’t have these kinds of thoughts).
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I spent part of this morning perusing the quotes/memes of quotes from Dr. King shared by friends and those I follow. They were quite diverse. But, I did notice a trend. Those shared by individuals with white skin, tended to focus on choosing love over hate and related themes. Those shared by non-whites, focused on injustice and the need for white people to get it together. Dr. King was a complex man and I think white people often forget that even while preaching non-violence, he was quick to call out where even those whites considered “allies” were falling short. In Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
“I must confess that over the last 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 the 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 can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
I follow Layla Saad on Facebook and this morning she chose to share this quote from Dr. King:
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
So, if you are white and want to do something today — or maybe even throughout the year — to honor Dr. King, think about upping your game on the knowledge front. To begin, if you haven’t read Letter from a Birmingham Jail in its entirety, do so. You can find a PDF version of it by following the link above. Some other ideas:
- Listen to Seeing White, a 14 part documentary series podcast “exploring whiteness in America — where it came from, what it means, and how it works.
- Join the Hard Conversations Book Club. Even if you can’t make the monthly online meeting, the reading list will increase your understanding of this year’s topic — systemic racism.
- Read Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. This one is on the Hard Conversations reading list. But, I picked it up after he was on NPR’s A-1 show last year.
- Discover Civil Rights workers beyond Dr. King, especially those who were everyday people who made a difference. This quick read from NPR about Georgia Gilmore is a great reminder that we ALL have gifts to contribute.
- If you proudly wear the label of Feminist, be sure your feminism is intersectional. If you aren’t already familiar with the history of racism within the Feminist Movement, do a little googling.
- Follow people of color, particularly women and femmes of color, on Facebook and Twitter. I can guarantee you will get an education if you do. And remember, when one of them says “white people …” do not get offended. If you haven’t gotten to the point where you can read those words without wanting to type “not me” then just sit on your hands and remember if it’s really not you, they aren’t talking about you.
The call to racism re-education is not a call to shaming. It is a call to understanding why we are where we are and what it is going to take for liberation and equality. This understanding should inform us as we move forward dreaming and creating new systems — systems that do not suffer under the burden of racism and injustice.
Blessings on your journey.