Monday, January 18, 2016

MLK in the Days of #Black Lives Matter

I was born in 1961, which means that Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive and actively working for civil rights during my early childhood. I remember seeing him on TV with crowds of people surrounding him.

I also remember my (White) police officer (birth)father standing by the door in uniform, beating his nightstick into his hand saying, "I'm gonna go beat n*%$#* heads in!" (c 1968)

And I remember my (White) mom sharply reprimanding him, "Don't say that in front of the kids!" And I started paying more attention.

I remember learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. in high school history classes and seeing photographs that were in my memory from live TV. And I remember teaching about MLK, naively assuming that the "Civil Rights Movement" was history.

And then I became a mom to two African American children.

The world shifted as I realized just how much prejudice there still was in the 1980s and 1990s. I started seeking out and listening to people of color. I began to teach more children of color and realized that their world was vastly different from mine. And my world changed as I raised children of color; when I was with my growing AA children, I was treated with less respect, with more suspicion, and sometimes outright discrimination. And I know this was nothing compared to what my children have faced as adults.

And then came Trayvon Martin... Michael Brown... Eric Garner...Walter Scott... Sandra Bland... Tamir Rice...

The #BlackLivesMatter movement has become the new Civil Rights Movement. People of color and their allies are organizing protests to the institutional racism that permeates our society.

The thing that "gets" me is the almost universal backlash from the White community. I know (and love) many people that think that #BlackLivesMatter is frivolous. That there isn't racism anymore; after all, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement "fixed it all." Right?

Sometimes I am infuriated by the unwillingness of many Whites to accept the testimony of people of color who are living the discrimination. How can so many refuse to believe the personal testimony of people of color?! The privilege of ignoring racism belongs only to those who don't experience it.

I find myself wondering today what Martin Luther King, Jr. would say about #BlackLivesMatter. So I looked back through his speeches, quotes, and writings. Here's  a bit of what I found that seems to be relevant(MLK quotes are in red; my comments are in black):

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. It is not easy to respond to accusations of racism with an open mind, but that is the challenge for the White community. Yes, it's controversial, but the least we can do is listen. So, I challenge you to open your mind and read one of these posts from Black writers: Why I'm Absolutely an Angry Black Woman, Make it Personal, After Ferguson, or watch this video. Or read and listen to activists of your choice.

One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. MLK would completely support the BLM protests in Minneapolis and St. Paul which closed roads and the Mall of America. King would be in jail with the organizers. He would not condone the violence of rioting, but he would certainly understand the anger behind it.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a warm-fuzzy, "let's all get along now" kind of guy. He knew the price of resistance, and he paid it in full. The problem is that the "bad check" marked "insufficient funds" from the "bank of justice" still is not paid. (references from King's "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963) King would not be satisfied with today's racial statistics in education, poverty, and incarceration, not to mention the pattern of violence directed toward Blacks from police across the nation.

Shallow understand by people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Read that again. King condemned shallow understanding by people of good will. He would condemn #AllLivesMatter. He would condemn those who believe being "color-blind" is the answer. He would condemn feel-good commemorations of his life. He would demand that the injustices were seen.

I don't have any easy answers. I don't think there are any easy answers to institutional racism, generational poverty, and police violence toward people of color. But I do think we need to listen, to actively resist racism, and to work for justice.

Start by listening.

Really listening.

Not to me. To the oppressed.

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