It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. That means we’re all hearing quotes from his Dream Speech. We’re hearing about how he was nonviolent. We’re hearing how we was patient and worked with others.
Let’s dig a little deeper. Take 15-20 minutes and read the Letter from Birmingham Jail. It’s not a quick read but it is worth every second. Unfortunately, it won’t read like it was written more than fifty years ago. Read it and see if it doesn’t fit right now.
You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being.
That could be talking about the NFL or Black Lives Matter or any other of so many things today.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “Wait!” has almost always meant “Never.”
Sadly that reminds me of a Daily Show episode a few months ago:
Finally, from Dr. King’s letter:
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 Council-er 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 that he can set the time-table 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.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating that absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
There are many people today who say they are not racist or who say they are colorblind. Neither of those things is true. We live in a society that makes it impossible to not be racist. It is systemic and it is ingrained in us. Recognizing our own racism is far more helpful than denying that it exists. In that way we can become anti-racist. Both racist and anti-racist together. Identifying the things we do because of racism will help us to stop doing them and help us to realize how great the problem is and what it will require of us to help change it. Being ‘people of goodwill’ is not good enough.
This past week Dee Rees was on the Daily Show. I did not recognize her name nor the name of the movie she directed, Mudbound, so I didn’t know what to expect when the clip began. It started off showing 10-15 people of color, in a rural area, sometime in the early-mid 20th century. My immediate reaction was that it didn’t interest me. My next reaction was to wonder why. I think, as much as I don’t like it, that I reacted that way because it was a cast of Black people. My racism was showing.
I watched the interview and loved Dee Rees. I definitely walked away with the sense that I want to see whatever story she is telling. (Interestingly enough, when I went to IMDB to be sure I was spelling her name and the movie correctly I noticed that the first four credited cast members are white. Did they choose a clip that didn’t show them purposely? Are those four characters truly the first ones that should be listed?)
I know I am racist. I don’t like it but that doesn’t make it untrue. I could make excuses that I am a product of the society in which I was raised, but I’d rather work to make that society a better one. I’d rather be more than a person of goodwill.
Dr. King is gone, but there are plenty of people doing his work. If you aren’t familiar with Melinda Anderson, start following her work. Sabrina Joy Stevens is another one to check out. Also Sherri Spelic and Shana White and Val Brown and so many others. This was not intentionally a list of women, but I’m not surprised to see it turn out that way.