What followed in the days and months ahead (after the assassination) tragically validated our deepest fears. Rioting broke out in over 100 American cities, as traumatized African Americans rose up in shock and anger at the slaying of their beloved leader.
Jesse Jackson, wrote recently: "We owe it to Dr. King — and to our children and grandchildren — to commemorate the man in full: a radical, ecumenical, antiwar, pro-immigrant, and scholarly champion of the poor who spent much more time marching and going to jail for liberation and justice than he ever spent dreaming about it."
James has divided his column into ways that Dr King supported the various aspects of our lives and the vision we can have for our lives. His words are in Italics and sometimes I have made my own comments re: resilience on that subject afterwards.
On our shared humanity and interdependence:
"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to embrace the broader concerns of all humanity.”
"All men are interdependent. Every nation is an heir of a vast treasury of ideas and labour to which both the living and dead of all nations have contributed. Whether we realize it or not... we are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women. When we rise in the morning, we go to the bathroom where we reach for a sponge which is provided by a Pacific Islander. We reach for a soap that is created for us by a European. Then, at the table, we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese or cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs we are already beholden to more than half the world."
Don't ever doubt that you are not alone and that we need each other to survive. There is evidence around you every day if you look for it. However, this quote can be daunting to those who are struggling in a deep place. Take care of, ground and comfort that inner pain and try, in whatever ways work for you, not to collapse into it. Then help others because sometimes in helping others you redefine who you are and feel better for the impact that you have had.
On the moral challenges that we face:
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbour will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others."
"I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits."
We all deserve to know that we matter and that others treat us as though we matter. We need to be that neighbour for ourselves and for each other.
On the fight against racism:
"White America must see that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. That is one thing that other immigrant groups had not had to face... America freed the slaves in 1863... but gave the slaves no land or nothing in reality to get started on. At the same time, America gave away millions of acres of land in the Midwest and the West. Which meant that there was a willingness to give the white peasants of Europe an economic base. And yet, it refused to give an economic to its black peasants from Africa who came here involuntarily, in chains, and who had worked for free for 244 years... And so emancipation for the Negro was really freedom to hunger... it was freedom without food to eat or land to cultivate."
"To develop a sense of black consciousness and peoplehood does not require that we scorn the white race... it is not the race per se that we fight but the policies and ideologies that leaders of that race have formulated to perpetuate oppression."
If we want to move out of an attitude of white privilege then we have to be willing to be humble and accept that we have internalized attitudes of privilege and oppression. That does not make us bad people. It makes us people who have behaved out of ignorance, internalized racism and lack of conscious choice and it has perpetuated the myth that some people matter more than others. The skill of being accountable and separating our behaviour from 'who we are' is an act of resilience too.
On the struggle for justice:
"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."
Very few people will say to you "Wow, I'm so glad that your self-esteem is improving and that you are telling me to stop treating you that way" when you claim your power and set a boundary. Don't expect it. Expect that they will attempt to protect their own self-esteem and their comfort with the power that they have and that it is ok for you to demand justice. Once it changes they will learn that they actually feel better when they are being just. However, know that it helps if you leave room for them to 'do good' and then reinforce the new behaviours. We all have higher self-esteem when we are behaving towards others like all people matter and that the behaviour is the part that is not ok.
On his opposition to war:
"As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles will not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, 'What about Vietnam?' They asked if our own nation was not using massive doses of violence to solve its problems to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home and I knew I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."
"Today, young men of America are fighting, dying and killing in Asian jungles in a war whose purposes are so ambiguous the whole nation seethes with dissent. They are told they are sacrificing for democracy, but the Saigon regime, their ally, is a mockery of democracy, and the black American soldier has himself never experienced democracy. While the war devours the young abroad, at home urban outbreaks pit black youth against young soldiers and guardsmen, as racial and economic justice exhaust human endurance. Prosperity gluts the middle and upper class, while poverty imprisons more than thirty million Americans and starvation literally stalks rural areas of the South." -
I can't speak to war at the government level. It gets very complicated and I get confused about it. We definitely needed to move in and stop Hitler and the Nazis from killing the Jews and there are numerous examples of genocide etc since then. However, in our day to day lives, I believe we ALL need to learn to calm down and see others that we disagree with as allies in LIFE. Disagree about the issues. Talk about how someone's behaviour has hurt you or angers you but don't treat it as a competition to win and create them as an enemy in your mind as you discuss it. This is one of the most important concepts I think. As children we differentiate between a child deserving love and their behaviour that we don't like. However, our society is totally out of whack re: how much we continue to objectify, vilify and judge one another. As soon as you objectify someone else as an 'asshole' or 'idiot' you give yourself permission to treat them badly.
We honour Dr Martin Luther King Jr and his words and life when we learn to implement the resilience skills that he demonstrated and talked about. And we honour ourselves when we choose to behave in line with our highest character.