January 17, 2012 at 12:00am
Martin Luther King Jr. Day might be my favorite holiday of the year in the United States. This is the one day of the year we don't argue over whether social issues matter. This is the one day of the year we don't feel scared to talk about racism, privilege, and their enduring scars on our society. This is the one day of the year the nation is called together to acts of service in honor of our history and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
I also appreciate being reminded, every year, to reflect on my own privilege. On Sojourner's God's Politics blog Ruth Hawley-Lowry wrote an article entitled, "Martin Luther King Sunday is Not Just for Black People." She writes, "We live in a nation where 'racism is in the air we breathe and the water we drink,' as the Rev. Dr. Gardner Taylor (a confidant of Dr. King) observes. We who are in the majority culture must acknowledge and confess that we benefit from the privileges we receive."
Hawley-Lowry's challenge to all of us is to not only work against racism, but also whatever may be our racially-based, unearned privileges. As a member of the racial majority in our country, I ask myself, how can I live so that, at least in some small way, I counteract the generations of oppression of racial minorities, and the privilege given to my own race? At the very least, I try to maintain an awareness of my privilege and communicate about it with others. Part of counteracting my privilege, however, has also meant being uncomfortable. When close friends, professional contacts, or even my own family states racist remarks, whether intended or not, whether "positive stereotypes" or not, how do I react? How can I be clear, while expressing compassion, that this remark was not okay? None of this has come easy to me, and I am continually making mistakes and admitting that I too, am a "recovering racist," socialized into my privilege, tripping a bit as I try to find my way forward.
And that is why Martin Luther King Day is so important - it is a stunning reminder that we must keep challenging our racially prejudiced systems, communities, and sometimes, even, selves. We hear the words every year -- King's "I Have a Dream Speech," radio excerpts of his assassination, and the voices of those who shared in his struggle. If anyone was uncomfortable, in danger, or struggled against hatred, it was King, and yet he cultivated his own courage, changing our country forever.
I just want to end with a quick YouTube video celebrating some of the lesser known sayings of Martin Luther King Jr. He promoted some pretty radical ideas about social justice, the need to end militarism, and the importance of changing our economic system. His ideas still ring true today, as the nonviolent social action Gandhi and King laid out continue to bring down corrupt leaders in the Arab World. And his words still challenge us to a different sort of social order, one of justice, love and forgiveness - words so relevant in our time of economic depression and electoral hate.
One last video - because how could I resist? Here are some local MN celebrities singing We Shall Overcome and quoting MLK. This video is a little inspiration to keep the MLK Day spirit going through each day of this next year!
More of my MLK Day reflections, including some of what has been written here, will be included in our upcoming FCV newsletter.