Americans like our leaders sanitized, captured in Pinterest quotes and witty tweets. We teach kids to swallow comfortable myths about historical figures, instead of thinking outside the box. But now in the age of Google, you and I can seek different narratives, rediscovering these men and women in the fullness of their humanity, not reduced to occasional sound bites.
This is how I fell in love with Dr. King, the revolutionary. There I sat as the sun illuminated my childhood bedroom, tears streaming, college textbooks thrown haphazardly on the dresser, as I read what I believe is his greatest speech at the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence.”
I remember running excitedly to my mother’s room that day, “Mom, listen to what he said!” ” Yes,” she shook her head calmly, smiling, after I finished. “I know.” Of course she did; she lived through all of it, and I didn’t. And yet as much as she told us about Dr. King growing up, there reading his words, I discovered him for myself, anew – a man deeply committed to revolution, such a radical and courageous way of being in the world.
Friday, as Trump was sworn into office, I thought of that day I sat enraptured by King’s words. How tragic is it that we are content to reduce his legacy and vision solely to the “I Have a Dream” speech? Perhaps its because doing so makes us feel better about upholding this illusion of “colorblindness?”
I mean, if Dr. King said we should not judge by skin color, but instead look at the content of character, well, those people caught up in our massive prison industrial complex, and oppressed by economic and educational inequality, have all brought it on themselves. This perspective completely absolves us from questioning how systems, laws and institutions are designed to oppress whole segments of American society.
Questioning the status quo takes courage; most people are drawn to the comfort of denial. Dr. King challenged not merely the government, but intersecting forces of domination – economic and social, militarism, our way of seeing one another. He understood the path forward meant transformation from within, and a revolution of values:
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies… True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”
Across the world people are waking up and they are resisting…
Not one of us knows what will happen during the next four years, but we can choose to cultivate values which take root in our hearts. We must begin to see one another in radical love, understanding there are commonalities within our struggles, while not denying the uniqueness of our truths.
Perhaps in an odd way, the ascension of Trump is an advantage. It is giving rise to voices which have remained silent for far too long, and causing us to question the values in our society. But the even deeper and far reaching question is
this: How do we show up in everyday life? Is it with a heart of compassion, or one so hardened by our own pain that we cannot see ourselves in another living being?
Now, more than ever, we must become clear about what we value, so we can sow seeds of compassion and light, as we resist the toxicity of:
patriarchy and white supremacy
homophobia / transphobia / xenophobia
social and economic equality
Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Who are you all reading these days? What are you doing in your community to sow seeds of understanding and love?