Monday, January 17, 2011
I could tell you of all his glorious achievements and tout his efforts towards peace. I could recite chapter and verse his impact on what we refer to "The Free World", which isn't so free after all and in which all minorities and women struggle every day. This world is still a profoundly more free and more equitable place than it was a short 50 years ago because of Dr. King's efforts and the efforts of Coretta Scott King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Change requires sacrifice and the involvement of the moderate majority. Somehow, Dr. King's words moved a nation and we have yet to find a leader (though I still hold out hope for President Obama or Secretary of State Clinton) to propel us forward as he did.
I'd rather give you a personal story, for narratives are truly powerful.
In our Comp 2 class the other day, we spoke of this nation's history and our places within it. Many of my white students express satisfaction with the state of racism in this country. They report not feeling as though being white is touted as being superior to another race. But I disagree. Many members of the dominant culture simply have no exposure to those of who are not, and lack of experience or discussion does not equal acceptance or lack or racism. Not having personally prejudiced feelings is a positive, don't get me wrong, but it is up to everyone to mix together, to reach for one another and learn and highlight our differing cultures.
One of my students commented that he thought if we lived back in the 1940s, '50s or 60's that we would have conformed to societal standards the way we unconsciously do now. He thought this especially true if we had lived during the time of slavery. But people made a difference back then too and it had to be someone who felt self-empowered and believed in things greater than themselves. I think in the 1950's, I would have probably been shunned by "normal" society and that in early American history, had I lived then, I might have been burned at the stake as a witch or consort of the devil. Heck, there are those today who think this should still happen.
Reading and discussing Dr. King's work, his life (hey man, we're all imperfect), his influences and the ideals for which he ultimately lost his life but not legacy, have had a profound impact on my growth as a self-actualized human being. While we do not share a religious faith, he has shown me over the years a higher ideal and a belief in something greater than myself; the uplifting of all humankind. Our fates are tied together; your success and my success are inexorably dependent on one another. Dr. King taught me to love people who wish me ill. Not like them, but love them. And while I do sometimes wish my enemies would stub their toes as they make their way to the bathroom in the dark, I don't want them dead.
We can all learn to live together in the world, if we only we would.
I'm willing to and I do give up privilege so that others can have a chance at equality. Don't think that this is all about sacrifice for me- I have the great satisfaction of knowing that in some way I am contributing to the greater good and I can be as sanctimonious as all blue hell. Really though, it feels good to have a positive purpose in the world.
"The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood." ~Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.