Monday, January 16, 2012

Dr. King's Day

I was glad to see on Facebook that a number of my "friends" had posted quotes from Dr. King.  Quotes are nice, but I prefer big pictures.  The best is A Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which I teach in a rhetoric class.  To me no one should graduate from college without having read it and internalized it.

I am off today, as most government employees are, and feeling a bit guilty/cynical/uncertain about why we get this day off and ignore it or give lipservice to it.  Most white people, and I am afraid some African Americans, just use it as an excuse to sleep late on a Monday.  I do know that some colleges, for example, Bryan College in Dayton, TN,use it for service learning.  I hope that is more true than I realize.  Of course, we get Labor Day and Memorial Day off too and pretty much ignore their meaning, so I suppose it is a reflection of the self-centered times we live in.

To me, Dr. King was a prophet in the Old Testament sense of calling a people to a higher ideal.  He was a flawed man but his assassination makes him a martyr in most of our eyes.  His words are more important than his life, in a sense, because he reminds us of what we should be if we call ourselves Christians and if we call our country just.  That is not to say his actions were unimportant--absolutely not, because he lived his words for the most part, especially when it came to a willingness to be an example of civil disobedience or nonviolent protest/action. 

He is a blank slate to some people--they can paint on him what they want, and make him greater or lesser than he was.  That's why I think it is critical to read his longer, more philosophical works, like Letter (above) to truly understand his philosophy and appreciate his gifts, rather than just taking quotes out of context, no matter how inspiring they are.  I don't think he wanted to make white people feel self-satisfied because they could quote him on Facebook.  I think he wanted to see a color-blind justice and civil liberties system in our nation, unlike Malcolm X (whom he criticizes in the Letter) who wanted separatism, and I believe he wanted us to live up to our billing as a Christian culture.  Remember, this was 50 years ago, when it was ok to say we are a Christian nature, or at least Judeo-Christian. 

Dr. King did not want to raise more differences between the racial groups, but more awareness.

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