“Don’t you get tired?”
That question was posed (to me) by the (white) father of a black daughter who was clearly irritated with trying to engage other white folks in a meaningful dialogue about the reality of the black experience.
My answer: Yes. But if people like us – people of good will — allow fatigue to stop us, we will never dismantle systemic racism.
Today, as we reflect on the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — a life’s work that is needed now more than ever – I am compelled to ask: Can we go beyond the sound bite “I have a dream” and explore his critical statements condemning war, capitalism, and the complicity of white moderates with racist structures?
I know that’s heavy, but it has been nearly 50 years since he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 and we are still struggling with some of the same injustices that he died trying to eliminate. Isn’t it time that we honor the man and not the myth?
Three weeks before an assassin’s bullet silenced him, Rev. King spoke to an audience at Grosse Pointe High School in Detroit. He said “America is still a racist country. Now however unpleasant that sounds, it is the truth. … I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it.”
Now is precisely such a moment for truth-finding and truth-telling.
Now is precisely such a moment for confronting the evil of racism.
Now is precisely such a moment to honor a man who fought to end racism, poverty, and war; who advocated for the poor and disenfranchised; who stood up for union rights; who was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, and employment, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; and who labored to create an America in which all people are treated with the dignity that they deserve as human beings.
We can honor him by taking on the responsibility of working to right some of the wrongs that still exist in our communities and in our country – unchecked police brutality; poor housing conditions; substandard schools; resegregation; limited (or no) access to healthcare; lack of employment opportunities that provide a living wage; food deserts in inner city communities; racial disparities in sentencing; the mass incarceration of African-American males; racial disparities in infant and mother mortality, voter suppression, etc.
While we have made some progress – the fruit of civil rights advocates’ (like Rev. King) over the years — we still have a long way to go if we are to realize the future that Rev. King imagined (at the end of his Letter From Birmingham Jail): a time “when the dark clouds of racial prejudice will pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities.
It’s up to us to calm fears and clear the air as we work toward building a brighter future where we live out our nation’s declaration that all people are created equal.