If you want Dr. King at his, “I have a dream,” then you have to have him at his,
“We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”
I cannot help but think that we have not moved out of the trap of gradualism. Dr. King’s words from his famous speech are just as relevant and challenging as they were in 1963, as are his numerous books, sermons, and letters.
Don’t forget, he was assassinated. Voted “the most hated man in America” in 1967. His stance on better wages for garbage workers, challenge to vote racist members of Congress out of office, and opposition to the Vietnam War made the right people mad.
And he paid for it with his life.
Does the phrase “black lives matter” bother you? If so, then you can put away your Dr. King quote about how “hate cannot drive out; only love can do that,” until you understand what he was really advocating. Dr. King did not stop at desegregation. He wanted true equality. He wanted white people to believe that black lives matter. That their vote matters, their culture, perspective, influence, and ideas matter. This is what dreaming about little black boys and girls holding hands with little white boys and girls means. When little kids play together, they use their imaginations together. They listen to one another and build upon each other. It involves sharing laughter and making memories. Can you imagine a little child telling another child that their life does not matter? Would you not sit down with your kiddo and explain how their friends’ life is just as important as his or hers?
Black lives still matter and always will. To believe that does not come at the expense of any other lives mattering. It gives dignity to people who had dignity stripped from them for hundreds of years and then received no recognition of that plight in terms of assistance. They were simply set free without a plan to educate or employ.
I’d like to quote a friend of mine, who wrote this during this past summer while protests were going on.
“Of course ALL LIVES matter. But until we start treating the black citizens of this world with the same decency and respect that we show white-supremacist murderers, I’m going to keep learning, keep fighting for justice, and keep imploring you to stop being offended by 3 words, and instead try to imagine what it’s like to be someone else.” –Adam Wright
I remember when learning about the Civil Rights Movement in college, someone said that it didn’t accomplish all of its goals. This blew my mind. “What do you mean all the issues back in the 60s weren’t fixed?!” I had the luxury of being naïve and sheltered, blinded by my status. America seems to be waking up on a larger scale to what the underlying evils of systemic racism have created. May we not only wake from our slumber, but may we shake off the wooziness to make real changes in our society. Dr. King never thought America was perfect, but he still had a dream he thought worth pursuing. Do you dream with him?
I want to leave you with another quote from Dr. King’s fateful speech, which is still unfortunately relevant.
“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
We must listen when voices cry out about an injustice like police brutality. We cannot simply dismiss those cries as false perceptions that do not mean anything. We cannot have unity until we both agree that an injustice like a white supremacy mindset, however difficult it is to pinpoint, is eradicated.
While Dr. King held out the call for unity, it came at the expense of comfortability. Addressing systemic racism is uncomfortable. We want to deny it and we for sure do not want to own up to any complicity that we may have in it. Until we are ready to strive to make progress on what Dr. King dreamed, we need to refrain from using his inspirational thoughts if we are unwilling to listen, seek understanding, and make changes.
Happy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!