Monday, January 16, 2017

Dr. King confronted, was not passive, did not make people comfortable

Before it was an official holiday on the 3rd Monday of January, a lot of calendar companies put Martin Luther King Jr.'s name on January15, his actual birthday, and before I could read well, I could see words on my birthday on most calendars, and so I asked my mother what that was. I got an answer that made me realize that she, and the rest of my family, did not like this person very much, whoever this person was. Comments over the years let me know just how much family members did not like him.

Years later, I went to the school library and found out for myself who he was. And I learned about MLK, and Gandhi, and how pacifism is NOT passive, and that these were men who did NOT make people comfortable.

Dr. King criticized his country and paralyzed USA cities with campaigns of civil disobedience. And I love him for it. 

To watch white conservatives now use MLK for their own purposes, to try to say his legacy was about being passive and cooperative and patient, that his comments about "peace" and "love" were about not ever making people uncomfortable and not about confronting people, is insulting to his legacy. It's infuriating.

On April 12, King was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama for violating a circuit court judge's blanket injunction against "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing." He wrote an open letter written on April 16, 1963 to defend the strategy of nonviolent, active, uncomfortable resistance to racism. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote, in part:

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler 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... Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.

If you have never read this entire letter, do it today. And do not be passive. Do not think that this struggle now is about waiting for the "right" time, and about making sure everyone is comfortable and not rocking the boat and not confronting. Otherwise, you aren't really following Dr. King.

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