Black Lives Do Matter - A Reflection for Martin Luther King Day
Today we stop to honor and remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I wish I could say that the dream offered more than fifty years in the past had come to pass. It was a dream first enunciated in Detroit and later in Washington. Many have tried to take hold of the dream and recast it in a way that Dr. King did not mean it. In recent months we've heard the cry #BlackLivesMatter. In response some have declared that #AllLivesMatter. While this is true, until we recognize that our society values some lives over other lives the latter slogan is meaningless.
There has been progress since 1963, but we have a long journey ahead before we can truly say that the we have turned the corner. Not until every person is truly valued can we let down our guard. I write this as a white male. Our society has valued my demographic more than any other. Look at Congress. It is dominated by people just like me -- white and male. Those running for President are for the most part just like me. So there is a long way to go. In thinking about today I wanted to share a few words from Dr. King, words that might challenge us.
Now it is true, if I may speak figuratively, that Old Man Segregation is on his deathbed. But history has proven that social systems have a great last-minute breathing power, and the guardians of a-status quo are always on hand with their oxygen tents to keep the old order alive. Segregation is still a fact in America. We still confront it in the South in its glaring and conspicuous forms. We still confront it in the North in its hidden and subtle forms. But if democracy is to live, segregation must die. Segregation is a glaring evil. It is utterly unchristian. It relegates the segregated to the status of a thing rather than elevates him to the status of a person. Segregation is nothing but slavery covered up with certain niceties of complexity. Segregation is a blatant denial of the unity which we all have in Christ Jesus.
So we must continue the struggle against segregation in order to speed up the coming of the inevitable. We must continue to gain the ballot. This is one of the basic keys to the solution of our problem. Until we gain political power through possession of the ballot we will be convenient tools of unscrupulous politicians. We must face the appalling fact that we have been betrayed by both the Democratic and Republican parties. The Democrats have betrayed us by capitulating to the whims and caprices of the southern dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed us by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing reactionary northerners. This coalition of southern Democrats and northern right-wing Republicans defeats every proposed bill on civil rights. Until we gain the ballot and place proper public officials in office this condition will continue to exist. In communities where we confront difficulties in gaining the ballot, we must use all legal and moral means to remove these difficulties. [King Jr, Martin Luther (2013-08-20). The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr.: "I Have a Dream" and Other Great Writings (King Legacy) (Kindle Locations 360-372). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.]
This was written in 1957. The title of the piece is "Facing the Challenge of a New Age." Dr. King was just getting started. He was still just in his 20s. He understood then that while "Old Man Segregation" was dying, "social systems have a great last-minute breathing power." He was right. They're still hanging on. In fact, they want their "country back."
As we pause today to remember Dr. King and his message, let us remember that there is still much to be done, so that the status quo might be dealt a final blow. Then and only then will not only Black Lives Matter, but all lives will matter. But we're not there yet.
As an addendum, I want to note something else that goes beyond what I originally shared. This morning I went to the Troy Community Martin Luther King Celebration. The speaker of the day, Mark Fancher, reminded us that over his career Dr. King moved from focusing on segregation to a deeper issue -- and that is poverty. If we want to truly live out the mission begun by Dr. King we must tackle this problem, which disproportionately affects people of color. Yes, there is a long way to go!