Monday, January 25, 2010

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Yes, this post is a week or so late... Though I feel it is important to get a post up about Martin Luther King Jr. for two reasons: The liberal blog on campus shouldn't pass an opportunity to discuss the legacy of this great leader, and secondly, the legacy of Dr. King is one that should be remembered and taught on the 364 days out of the year that aren't reserved for him.

Much of the commentary surrounding this year's remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. obviously dealt with the fact that the United States currently has it's first African-American President. This is clearly a tremendous accomplishment in race relations within this country. However, many commentators were quick to call this accomplishment the "completion" of Dr. King's dream that he articulated in his historic speech years ago. The dream of which Martin Luther King Jr. spoke which was always at the heart of the causes he stood behind was far more complex than simply breaking a glass ceiling for minorities. King's message was deeply rooted in agape love--the unconditional love of all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of race or class. This was a deeply threatening notion for the American status quo at the time, and in many ways still is today. We have a tendency these days to ignore the truly radical aspects of what Dr. King fought for, and it is especially important today that we continue to appreciate his life's work, and challenge ourselves to apply it to our daily lives, not letting the fact that we elected a black man to the highest office in the nation serve as an excuse for complacency.

Dr. Cornel West is one of our greatest public intellectuals in this country. He keeps a busy schedule on the lecture circuit, and one of the topics he almost always addresses is exactly this subject--as Dr. West describes it, rejecting the "Santa Clausification" of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. The following are excerpts from a speech delivered by Dr. West on January 18, 2010.

We have to resist the ‘Santa Claus-ification’ of Martin Luther King. I don’t want to sanitize Martin Luther King. I don’t want to deodorize Dr. Martin Luther King. I don’t want to disinfect Dr. Martin Luther King, and we’re not gonna domesticate Dr. King...

From an interview with Tavis Smiley in 2007:
He just becomes a nice little old man with a smile with toys in his bag, not a threat to anybody, as if his fundamental commitment to unconditional love and unarmed truth does not bring to bear certain kinds of pressure to a status quo. So the status quo feels so comfortable as though it's a convenient thing to do rather than acknowledge him as to what he was, what the FBI said, "The most dangerous man in America." Why? Because of his fundamental commitment to love and to justice and trying to keep track of the humanity of each and every one of us.

Again, from last week's speech:
If we want to honor the legacy of Dr. King, then we must begin by learning how to love people. … That’s why people didn’t want to hang with Martin Luther King too long. He wasn’t talking about your career — but what your calling is. He wasn’t interested in talking about all of your degrees and your possessions — but what your depth of love for others is.

These are definitely some thoughts worth reflecting on 365 days a year, wouldn't you say?

1 comment:

Bill said...

Good post! Cornell West is right, the image of Martin Luther King I had ingrained in me as a child was really watered down

"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."