It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We take this time to honor the life and vision of a man who unapologetically risked it all to work towards equality employing a strategy of non-violence. His stance on not fighting fire with fire helped shape and control the narrative to highlight exactly what was going on around the country.
His power was not in his “hands” but in the strength of his mind to do the thing that goes against every human instinct for the sake of further proving his argument and developing a stable foundation for an entire movement. His leadership in maintaining this strategy was met with opposition from within the Black community as some felt as though fighting back and taking an eye for an eye would yield better results. There were some that felt as though Blacks should completely disengage from White society as a whole and focus on building wealth.
Who was right?
This depends on who you ask and how they see the end goal. If your family suffered on the back-end of desegregation with store closures and farm profit decreases you may hold one opinion. If your family suffered from mass incarceration as a result of Jim Crow laws you may hold another. However, had the foundation not been established with undeniable video evidence of Black peace being met with extreme violence perpetrated by the State as well as White citizens at the time, would any school of thought have a place to take root? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that there’s only one right answer to how we achieve better treatment and equitable economic standing in our given environments over the years.
The social constructs of discrimination and racism are multifaceted and manifest themselves in almost every avenue of life in America (Work, worship, education, financial access, voting, socializing…) so we need every type of Hero we can muster to tackle this beast. Nobody’s wrong, but not everybody’s right in every situation.
Where does that leave us today?
Just like in every other portion of history, Black is not a monolith. Not even Black in America… not even Black in the same city. We each have a realm of experience that shapes how we would like to see the future of people who look like us. Even when we isolate the last 6 years, most of which we spent with Obama as President, we didn’t all have the same outlook on the state of Black America.
I’m sure from the outside in, it’s evident to those paying attention. The same time that we had President Obama in office, we were enraged and mourning the fact that Trayvon Martin died because of the suspicions of a White Latino centered solely on his race and presence in a decent neighborhood. While we couldn’t have seen the day of anyone other than a white male holding the highest office in our country without the work of Dr. King, there’s a hole in the tapestry that still makes horrible people feel as though they can treat us how they see fit and never have to answer for the crimes they commit. Here’s the piece that makes it even trickier, there’s no proven formula that keeps Black people from getting gunned down and/or manhandled like dogs just for being Black in a particular space. Poor kid in Ferguson to Harvard Professor… we’re not a monolith, but we are all candidates for similar treatment.
How is that possible?
Even though we have come so far on the shoulders of those that went before us like Dr. King, we have failed to establish any real infrastructure for systemic change. We have some black owned banks, but not enough to stop frequenting establishments that have been proven to discriminate against us. We have lots of black owned businesses, but not enough are in a position to employ large segments of our communities and provide alternate avenues for economic sustenance. We’ve climbed, but not together. We’ve achieved, but not as an organized unit.
How does that affect how we treat one another?
The internet is an animal that Dr.King didn’t have to endure. He was able to execute his strategies without the ever looming comment section or editorial page posts. Would we be able to accept and respect his strategy today without coming down with a case of the “If I had been there..” syndrome where behind a keyboard we fancy ourselves some version of Luke Cage or T’Challa? In this age the incidents are more easily reported and the power of the narrative is in the hands of either the one with a badge, or the camera with the clearest angle.
We look at incidents like the young woman being beaten in a pizzeria in Pittsburghand then shame the cameraman and the only visible black female employee for not going all John Stewart and Storm. We don’t ever stop to consider what’s at stake for one another. It’s easy to say, “you should have jumped in the middle of the mob” or ” you should have called the police” and “what good are you doing behind the camera?”. We’ll support a woman risking her job and possibly her life, but won’t have an answer for her as to where she can then feed her family and pay her bills afterward. We talk bad about the cameraman, calling him a coward, but he’s the only reason that there’s been an arrest on the correct side of the incident. We aren’t fair with one another as much as we could be.
We have a present need, to understand and respect that there’s room for all of us. Not just room, but each of us have something special that we can bring to the table and in any given situation we should seek to use the strategy that fits the circumstance. Dr.King was not docile and mild, he was strategic and emotionally intelligent enough to know how to prick the hearts of those that stood in the way of progress. He knew to devise specific goals and work to achieve them. We need to move forward with a balance of proactive and strategic reactive methods if our goal is to see major and measurable positive change.
This piece is a summation of my opinion based on my observation. I encourage you to seek out the perspectives and research the concepts presented here for yourself and share your conclusions. This is a safe space for the exchange of ideas. Links provided in-text for reference.