Dr. King, Deconstructed

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Today on Martin Luther King Day, I cannot reflect on the hardships people have faced in the faded, dim recollection of the past. I cannot recall the images of hoses and dogs and hatred. Instead, with everything I have read of Dr. King, I am forced to reflect on the urgency of the battles humanity still has to fight.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

As soldiers die and old people die, as everyone who is fighting for their freedom to be “right” dies, as we are all in the perpetual, human motion of dying, I must ask myself, if Dr. King were here, would even he be able to make change? He was a brilliant speaker and a man of integrity, but honestly, he was also a man who happened to be at the right place, at the right time. There were many wonderful speakers, many men who were standing up and fighting, but Dr. Kings passionate, “I have a dream” speech was positioned just right, toward the end of a long day of speeches, to to caress the collective dreams and desires of an entire generation of people. There were speeches before that one and speeches after that one. Yet his remains the most revered and celebrated. It was not a good speech in the sense of studying “good” speech-making. You’ll find that it was repetitive and zealous, filled with religious minutiae that doesn’t make sense unless you were Baptist and black in that particular place and time. Yet, what he did worked because his audience was mostly the same religion, mostly the same color and mostly heard and appreciated his kind of sermon before. Now I am not saying that it wasn’t a powerful speech, because that is its greatest legacy. It was a powerful speech, a speech that spoke of the hunger and need of a people to be thought of as fellow human beings. It was a speech that cried out to be acknowledged, embraced and replayed for generations, because it was a speech that reminded us of what passion can be, what desire for freedom tastes like, and how hard people are willing to fight for that desire.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

How would today’s world (a world Dr. King helped create) react to such a speech? When we are split down so many lines; political, gender, racial and sexual, just to name a few. We are as divided as ever, severed off into categories and subcategories and feeling less and less connected to our fellow human beings. We are now mistrustful of people who have bumper stickers that exclaim beliefs we disagree with. I myself react with almost violent dislike, to Jesus Fish on the backs of SUVs filled with (in my mind) squawking children and religious bigotry. I believe the person with the Jesus Fish decal on their car would hate me for being an outspokenly pro-choice liberal. For being an atheist. For being a Feminist. so I respond by simply hating them from before they get the chance to hate me. What kind of speech would rally the Jesus Fish driver and myself, as human beings? What would make me stand next to someone pro-life and hold their hand and exclaim that we both agree on something? On what fundamental level would we quit viewing each other as enemies, on what is essentially a single issue, and be united in order to make real sweeping social change?

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.

There is a war going on both in our heads and in foreign lands. People are being maimed. People are dying. People are cutting the heads off reporters and posting the video on the internet. People are burning sacred religious texts on the doorsteps of Mosques. There can be no worse ugliness than what is happening in this moment. And yet, I am a loss. I have no fancy speeches. I don’t know how to rally people behind the banner of “Hey, neither of us is right, and we should all shut up and go home to our families and quit killing people for political gain!” That banner weighs too much and I don’t know enough people who would have the energy to carry it.

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

How do we make this world a place filled with love? How do we end the violence of a war that we don’t feel we started? How do we stand united as a people and say that WE HAVE A DREAM, THAT ONE DAY, CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS WILL SIT TOGETHER AT THE TABLE OF BROTHERHOOD? How do we let go of the petty, innocuous differences between us and fight for what matters most; a world in which we don’t have to fight?

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

If Dr King were alive today, what could he do, or say that help end these wars? These hatreds? Every drop of blood spilled is staining our hands, no matter who you voted for or who you support now. Every death, brutally televised, serves to do no more than remind us that our own lives are fragile and should therefore, be held gently in the hands of those with power. We are all guilty of not doing more, not saying more, not fighting harder to see this nation, live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This truth does not end at our guarded borders. It does not extend only to people of a certain color, class or gender. It bleeds over the oceans and across the seas. It spills into the hills and valleys and deserts and cleanses us of our pettiness and our self-righteousness. ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL does not just apply to this country or that country or to people with money, or oil, or power. It is a universal truth that cannot be scrubbed or propagandized away.

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life;
love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.

I am just as guilty as the next person of standing still when I should be marching. I don’t know where to start, who to rally, how to help? I am floundering in a sea of confusion and wondering, just when will I have the time, to make sweeping social change? I think that may be why Dr. King is so celebrated. He did not hesitate. He did not question how change would come. He knew that change was not something he wished for, but something that was necessary to the evolution of mankind. Change will spring from the horizon as surely as the sun must do every morning; because without the sun and without change, we would freeze and our souls would be left hungry and barren. He knew that change must come, but he also knew that waiting would not help it to come any faster.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

Dr King has many legacies. He was bold, articulate and powerful. But in our desire to place the mantle of saint-hood upon his shoulders, we have forgotten that he was simply a brave man, who rallied a people who were ready to be rallied. Without the people who stood up and stood for the things he was saying, Dr King would have been no more than a mouthpiece, no more than one man, raising his voice alone in the darkness. He did not stand alone in defiance.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.

When President Obama took his oath of office, I understood the joy, the crying, the adulation laid at his feet. We have been waiting here, waiting for another Dr King, waiting for someone to help raise us out of this apathy and xenophobic isolation, because we think that someone else will do the hard work of saying the things we are afraid to say. We are waiting for the miraculous, once in a millennium intervention of someone powerful, noble and brave. We are sheepishly waiting to be saved rather than taking up the fight to save ourselves, which I think, is the greatest sin of all. My lack of religion notwithstanding, I think Dr. King would agree.

Ten thousand fools proclaim themselves into obscurity, while one wise man forgets himself into immortality.

Leave a Reply