Martin Luther King Jr. Style Patriotism

‚ÄúI have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.‚ÄĚ

‚Äē¬†Martin Luther King Jr.

All men are created equal, but in American, as has always been the case, some men are created more equal than others.

Some are more American, and so, are more deserving of the American Dream. All others must prove, not once, not twice, but every day of their lives that they are deserving of some lesser¬†version of the dream. They must beg for the favor and learn when to keep quiet, keep hidden, and give thanks for what they’ve been given. They have to accept that their lesser participation in the Dream can be revoked at any moment.

Many American’s believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was a pacifist, too many Americans. It is true that he was a lover of love and peace and dreamed of a day when fighting wouldn’t be necessary, but he never believed the exploited, the neglected, the suffering, or the needy should keep quiet. He never believed that the abusers, the exploiters, the greedy, or the cruel should be allowed to operate¬†without being challenged. He never believed that talking about it made the problem worse. He never believed that “not talking about it” was the way to a more equal, more compassionate world.

Martin Luther King Jr. loved America. There is no doubt about that, but he made it his business, his life’s¬†work, to continually¬†criticize¬†her. He was deeply disappointed not just in America’s¬†past, but its current state and where it was headed. He called out injustice and lies where he saw them, and he¬†demanded a change be made. He asked time and time again: What kind of country do we want to be? What kind of future are we trying to build?

He called for a more compassionate world, I thought we all wanted the same, but I’m starting to wonder. When we say “all men are created equal” we have to be honest with ourselves about what we mean. Does “men” mean only cis, white men? Does “all men” mean men and women, but only if they look like our forefathers and behave, dress, love, and marry the way that history, religion, and the patriarchy say they should. Does¬†“all men” mean certain classes, certain belief systems, certain skin tones, or ancestral lands?

Does “all men” mean only American born?

America has many sins it must atone for, but the people who are in a place to facilitate such penance show no interest in doing so. Worse, they have learned nothing from history and are hell-bent on repeating it.

There is a long history of America opening her borders when cheap labor is needed. Whether its building railroads, picking oranges, or peeling shrimp we want immigrants, but only if they stay hidden, stay in their place, do the job we want them to do, and leave when it is done. We want immigrants who know they are not, in fact, created equal.

So again I ask you, who are we talking about when we talk about equality? And to that question, I’ll add another, to whom does equality belong? Who has the right to dole it out and whose responsibility is it to act as a haven for this highest ideal?

“I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world.”

‚ÄĒ¬†Martin Luther King, Jr.

If equality and the pursuit of life and liberty are qualities we believe are intrinsic to human existence, and if we claim to be a land where human beings can come and live the kind of life humans were meant to, where they could be free, and happy, and fulfilled, how can we shut our borders and claim a higher moral ground?

How can we reconcile what we say with actions we are taking now? How can we reconcile a belief that all people are equal with the belief that where you come from and the way you look determines your future? Who are we to decide who is worthy of this kind of life? How, after all, our own ancestors have been through, has it become so easy to turn away the people who need it the most?

We’ve begun, once again to think of profits over people and as tensions rise and our fear and frustrations grow, we become greedier, more suspicious, intensely guarded. We start talking about closing our borders. We start pulling back the help we had offered. We change our stance from one of a world leader, world savior, world mentor and measure of what a country can be when it puts people first to one of America First.

Now the man who has been elected to represent those beautiful ideals this country was built on starts questioning why America¬†needs people from “shithole countries.” He wants a merit-based immigration policy where people must prove their worthiness and earn their equality and freedom. He wants these gifts to belong to people based on arbitrary factors like where they were born.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and the true American Dream, are being forgotten. But it it’s just the President. Half of this country has forgotten what our role in this world was supposed to be. We’ve forgotten what sets us apart.

America does not open her borders only to people she needs most. America’s borders are opened to the people who need her¬†most.

It would be nice if every country in the world could provide for its people. It would be nice if every world leader believed that all their citizens deserved to have food, medicine, work, and safety, but they don’t. In a world where so much suffering is taking place, how can we all, who know better, turn our backs and still believe we are the moral compass of the world and the land of bravery and freedom?

Once we took such an enlightened position, we couldn’t go back. The only course for us was one of more freedom, more justice, more opportunity, and more equality. To now try to close our eyes again to cruelty, genocide, and human rights violations in the name of protecting ourselves and furthering our wealth and power in a sin worse than any committed in the past. There are no excuses. We aren’t so ignorant anymore.

Now we let people die, live in squalor, and suffer hunger, war, disease, and loss deliberately.

What would Dr. King think of us now? How might he respond?

‚ÄúRationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄĒ Martin Luther King Jr.

I firmly believe he would never stop talking about America’s failures and I do not doubt that many of the people who claim to honor his legacy would, if he¬†were alive, tell him to leave this country if he felt that way.

I want those people to know they do not honor his legacy. I want them to know that, if he were alive, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be someone who would support immigrant rights. He would support Dreamers; he would support “chain migration,” and the Green Card Lottery. He would support more refugees. He would support people from Africa, and El Salvador, and Haiti, and Mexico. He would support keeping families together. He would remind us every day that American cannot be great and selfish, and greedy, and cruel at the same time.

He would be saddened, disappointed, and furious. He would take a knee, and he would shout Black Lives Matter. He would riot, and speak out, and he would not agree that America is becoming great again. I have no doubt.

And it would all be for love of country. When you love someone, you tell them the truth and I too love this country enough, to tell the truth. The truth is we have a long way to go. Longer in fact to go then we did when Dr. King gave his famous speech so often quoted and used to silence the very people he was dreaming for. At least back then we had the right vision. At least back then we were heading in the right direction. Quite a few steps have been taken backward since the world lost such a great man.

Honor him, his service, and his sacrifice by loving this country enough to make it great through kindness, empathy, and humility. Honor him by continually criticizing this us and reminding us of how far we have strayed and how far we have yet to go.

Because when we label some countries and some people as less deserving, less equal, and in effect, less human than us just because of the language they speak, the way they worship, or the color of their skin we are the ones who become less American. We lose our way and forget what the American Dream and King’s Dream are all about. A true patriot is never silent. A true American patriot can be found among it’s poorest, and brownest. True patriots are found among the disruptors, the criticizers, the ones who make us uncomfortable, who make us feel bad, who force us, kicking and screaming, to change.

A true patriot, one who puts his country first and wants her to do better by being better. A true patriot, a Martin Luther King Jr. style patriot, is one the masses would rather not hear. I hope we can all one day, live up to that image.

Oh, how great we might be then.

‚ÄúThere can be no deep disappointment where there is no deep love‚ÄĚ

‚ÄĒ Martin Luther King, Jr.

***

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To Live in Righteous Anger

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for feeling tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Mondays are do-overs, each one is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

For me, this Monday is one of reflection and courage. I am thinking of the great Martin Luther King Jr., and I am facing some big fears and anxieties this morning in a doctor’s office. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to see a doctor. They frighten me, but I’m not sure why. It’s as if somehow seeing the doctor will be what leads to my death. It’s stupid and irrational, but that doesn’t mean my mind can let it go. Wish me luck in my morning of panic attacks.

‚ÄúLet no man pull you so low as to hate him.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄĒ Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was thinking about forgiveness the other day, a virtue I have struggled with my whole life. I thought about how I had hardened myself against forgiveness, lumping it in with all the other parts of religion that aim to keep us weak, passive, and easily manipulated. Forgiveness erases the past and makes us easily controlled in the future. It makes your pain pointless and gives the abuser, oppressor, and manipulator the impression that they have no dues to pay or apologies to make. I do not forgive, not deep down, even if I act like I do.

Many people have told me, both face to face, through sermons, and through motivational quotes, that forgiveness was good for the soul. That forgiveness was for you and not them. That forgiveness was the ultimate test and proof of strength. Bullshit, I thought.

But the other day, out of nowhere I got it. Forgiveness isn’t saying it’s okay. It isn’t saying that the people¬†who hurt you aren’t to blame. It doesn’t mean I have to like them, love them, or give them another chance. It doesn’t mean that my anger isn’t real or warranted.¬†It means that I don’t have to live in that anger anymore.

I don’t have to spit cruel words, or go out of my way to make my anger felt by them, or myself. It doesn’t have to be a part of every day of my life. I don’t have to throw it out, I just have to put it in storage, and I only have to take it out when I want to, when it’s useful to me.

This felt like a real breakthrough. Like, there were parts of my psyche I never realized were so tightened up with anger and finally, a mental muscle that had been working, working, working, got to take a break.

Hatred is the same I suppose. I hope.

I don’t hate often but when I do it is a deep and mean kind of hate, all consuming. I have hated bosses, I’ve hated family members, I’ve hated celebrities, and, more recently, I’ve¬†come to hate a whole slew of politicians, pundits, and swaths of citizens, voters, and non-voters. I feel it like a dark whole in my chest, painful, inflamed, and crippling.

My hatred lives on a nation level, and I blame one man for it all, Donald Trump.

Hatred is a strong word, a strong emotion, to center on one man, I know, but he has become the leader, the figurehead, of a movement of destruction. He has given power to those who people like Martin Luther King Jr. fought so hard to against. He has taken us back to a time and a moral standard that is devoid of compassion and empathy. He has made the worst parts of humanity into virtues and left those who needed protection out in the cold, to be ridiculed and hated again.

This week that man will become President of the United States of America and I keep asking myself: What would Martin Luther King have to say about the state of our country today?

I think he would be livid. He would be disappointed. He would never stand for this, and he would surely be reminding us of how far we have fallen from his dream.

He would be angry but would he feel hatred the way I do? I believe he wouldn’t and if I could meet him and speak with him he would tell me not to live in my hatred. HE would tell me to hold on to my anger but to make it a righteous and useful anger, not an anger rooted in meanness and revenge. I do not wish evil on those unwilling to do what is right, simply because they are afraid of inclusion and equality, but I am angry, and I will fight them.

I am learning to forgive by not living in anger. I am learning not to hate by fighting back with everything the opposition lacks. I want to fight with love. I want to fight for everyone.

All the great leaders I’ve studied did two things: They told the truth. They didn’t bother with insults or exaggerations. They didn’t bother with comeback or promises of punishment or revenge. They didn’t build themselves up at another expense. They only told the truth, and if the truth made you look bad, it was your own fault.

The second thing the did was push, pull, and drag everyone to the problem and the solution. Our true leaders didn’t just preach to the choir, the spoke to the very people who need to hear the truth. They spoke to the people who were part of the problem, not by action but by inaction too. They made it clear who was responsible and how the responsible could make a change. They laid the crime on the criminals and taught the victims how to stand up, be strong, and fight back.

So, I guess that is the kind of person I want to be. Not a pacifist, as Dr. King is often betrayed, but a righteous warrior. Someone who fights back in a way that my conscience can live with. Anger is ok, but living in it, never feeling compassion for the enemy is not the right way. Use your anger to never let them forget or make excuses. Use your anger to make them do better, not to make them fear you. Use your anger to uplift your community, not use them to make you feel important and god-like.

I will work on not hating the people who want to hold us all back, watch others suffer, and even kill for the pleasure of a win.

I will try not to hate people who are taking away healthcare from the people who need it most. I will try not to hate people who wish to take rights and dignity from people who have already lived in shame and fear. I will try not to hate people who want to keep people from America who need our protection the most. I will try not to hate people who want more prisons, more guns, more bombs.

I will try every day not to hate them, but I will never stop talking about their crime.

I will never let them forget.

I think Dr. King would approve.

***

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Remembering the Real Martin Luther King

‚ÄčUnfortunately, Dr. King‚Äôs legacy has been clouded by efforts to soften, sanitize, and commercialize it. Impulses to remove Dr. King from the complex and radical movement that elevated him must end. We resist efforts to reduce a long history marred with the blood of countless people into iconic images of men in suits behind pulpits.

// ReclaimMLK.com

There was a time when I believed what I was taught in school about Martin Luther King. I believed that he was a man who encouraged only peaceful means of protest. I believed he would blame black people for their own oppression. I believed he would say that racism was only a problem because we all kept talking about it. I believed that because that’s what I was told about the man as a child, but I am learning that a lot was left out of black history in school. I am learning that it was all either white-washed or pure lies.

It didn’t occur to me at the time that we never discussed any other civil rights leaders, and it did not occur to me that we only discussed¬†one of Dr. Kings speeches. It never occurred to me that the teachers implied that “The Dream” had already been achieved and that any further anger or dwelling on past wrongs (which were also not discussed beyond “there was slavery but then there wasn’t and it’s been happily ever after ever since”) was to disappoint the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and we must always strive to make his dream of peace and color-blindness a reality.

As a teenager, I noticed the difference in tone when discussing Dr. King vs. discussing other civil rights activists, like Malcolm X. I was drawn to learn more about the ones that white people didn’t like and didn’t give a¬†holiday to. I bought into what I was taught and chose not to hold Dr. King up as a hero because in my mind he had been a pawn of¬†white supremacy.

I realize now I was wrong. I learned that after his death his message had been remade and repackaged as a means to hush and patronize black people. I saw it in school and I saw again on social media, first when Trayvon Martin was killed, then again when Mike Brown was killed. I have seen it time and time again from reporters, politicians, bloggers, and racists, to guilt POC into turning a blind eye to injustices that continue to exist just below the surface of public awareness.

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

// Martin Luther King, Jr.

When the Ferguson protests happened it seemed that white people were only mad about black people protesting (and possibly rioting) but no about the issues that sparked the protests in the first place. What was painfully obvious was that if it were white people perceiving an injustice (real or not) there would be no action that was too much or too far. Isn’t America all about Give Me Freedom or Give Me Death?

Yeah, they are if you are white. If you aren’t you should remember that Dr. Martin Luther King would not have stood for this. Dr. King would not say “Black Lives Matter”, he would say “All Lives Matter”. The man is probably spinning in his grave as we speak because you people are rioting and hating whites when you ought to be holding hands and singing Kum-ba-ya. You ought to be moving on from the past. You ought to be forgetting racism was ever a thing and thinking about how you can change things by being a better person and pulling up your pants. Remember Dr. King’s Dream.

“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being…I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.

// Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr.

No, I think Dr. King would be celebrating what happened in Ferguson. He would praise all the efforts since then as well. He would praise the men and women standing up now and fighting, however they can, for a better world. A world where police aim to bring people to justice rather than enforce their own brand of justice themselves. A world where black people feel beautiful and capable. A world where our history has not been forgotten or altered. A world where every black child grows up knowing where he came from and why they must keep fighting every day.

I do think Dr. King would have a few issues with how things are turning out. He would be appalled at the number of deaths of young black people at the hands of law enforcement. I think he would be appalled at the number of black people still living in poverty. I think he would be appalled at how little the attitudes and attentions of white people have changed.

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.

// Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think it’s time for a change in the way we talk about Martin Luther King. Go out and try to learn something new about this man today. Read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, read his letter Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam, read his interview with Alex Haley, listen to a few of his other speeches, and check out the hashtag #ReclaimMLK. Start there and you will see the man you thought Dr. King was was a fabrication and a tool used to keep us all blind.

He was not a man who only cared for nonviolent protest. He was not a man who valued order over justice. He was not a man who wanted black people to move on and forget the past. Hell, he gave more than one damn speech. He fought against economic injustice. He believed in reproductive rights. He risked his life every day to say we have to speak up and we have to fight. He was hated by the same kinds of people who twist his legacy today. Don’t forget, he was no national hero in his time.

That is the man I choose to celebrate today. The man named “the most dangerous negro” and an enemy of the state. The man that was killed for speaking up. The man who would not allow America to quietly forget her sins.

Let Us Be Dissatisfied!

What would Martin Luther King think of the world we live in today? Many people ask this question and many more after tragic events such as the killing of Mike Brown and the resulting protests in Ferguson, MO and across the country. I really began to take the question seriously after the murder of 12 year old Tamir Rice by police over a fake gun. When a child is killed and it is beginning to like like it was only because he was black and someone had thought he might be a threat, that is when you know the system is broken. That’s when I began to feel deeply, deeply, dissatisfied.

‚ÄúLet us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the fires of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until they who live on the outskirts of Hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heap of history and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home. Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be¬†transformed into the bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄĒ Martin Luther King Jr.

I believe that Dr. King¬†would also find himself deeply dissatisfied at the progress we have made in this country, or lack thereof. I do not think this is the future America he dreamed of. We have the illusion of progress but not real progress. Or maybe we have taken a few steps forward in some ways and slid back in others. Or maybe it’s that there is just so much hate left in the world that real progress cannot be made. I’m not sure what our excuse is but I am sure we are still far behind where we could or should be. I know that we have gotten far off course and that we must begin to make things right.

In case you aren’t already, here are a few statistics that should make you feel dissatisfied too:

  • Black students accounted for 18 percent of the country’s pre-K enrollment, but made up 48 percent of preschoolers with multiple out-of-school suspensions. Preschoolers! [source]
  • Black students were expelled at three times the rate of white students. [source]
  • Black girls were suspended at higher rates than all other girls and most boys. [source]
  • Nearly half of the nation‚Äôs Black¬†students attend high schools in low-income areas with dropout rates that hover in the 40-50% range. [source]
  • 24.7% of all African-American live in poverty in comparison to 8.6% of all non-Hispanic White, 11.8% of all Asian-American and 23.2% of all Hispanic. [source]
  • The racial composition of the US prison and jail population as of 2008 was 60.21% (African American (non-Hispanic), 20.29% Hispanic, 13.44% White American (non-Hispanic) , and 6.06% Other (American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander American, and Multiracial American). [source]
  • Blacks, age 15 to 19, are¬†killed by police at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police. [source]

Reading all that how can we all not feel dissatisfied? I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where the above statistics are true. The above statistics aren’t even some of the worst of it. The statistics regarding black women specifically are even more grim. We all should be ashamed of ourselves, and we should all understand why there is so much frustration coming from minorities and people of color. No one ever said life was fair, but there are some people for whom society is unfairly unfair.

I don’t pretend to know how to fix any of this. The issues seem more complicated than I alone could find a solution to. I do know that the way to begin is simple enough. We must all do two things, for one we must learn to feel more empathy for our fellow human beings. We are all so alike and yet we imagine everyone else is an “other”. We refuse to listen to each other and call the “other” lazy, stupid, not a real part of the America we imagine. When we do this we are wrong. There is no “other”, there is only all of us and we are in this alone, and together, and we have to begin to give a shit about each other!

Secondly, we all have to speak up! Whether an issue concerns you or not doesn’t matter, you know injustice when you see it. Don’t pretend, don’t hide, don’t say it’s not your responsibility or place, speak up! Stop hearing the news and then going about your day as if people all over aren’t beig killed or jailed unjustly. Stop acting like you don’t know there are children homeless and starving and going to shitty schools that will just about guarantee they continue to be homeless and starving their whole lives. Or until they are jailed or killed unjustly.

That’s all it takes to start. That’s all we all have to do. Be nice to each other, think of one another, and speak up when something is wrong. We could all make a lot of change with just those two actions. I think then I, and the Martin Luther King that lives in us all, might find ourselves a little more satisfied with this world.