Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On Not Celebrating MLK Day

Well, it is upon us again, our annual descendant of Hands Across America, National Brotherhood Week, and all the other predecessors where we pretend to love one another and promise to work for true equality and then go back to doing the same rotten things we were doing the day before. Our students get to hear (for the thousandth time) the "I have a Dream" speech, as if MLK never gave another one. People who will not see each other for another year will sit down to prayer breakfasts in which the prayers last five minutes, and the participants are encouraged to buy out tables, making it possible for them to only have to sit with people they invite.

Do I sound cynical? You bet. Martin would not have stood for most of this crap. In fact, he would not have shown up. He would have been outside protesting the self congratulatory nonsense of it all, in the face of the poverty and war that we continue to allow and support.

If you want to celebrate, write your senators and demand better funding for homeless and job training programs. Ask your minister why the church only reflects people from one socio-economic background. Clear out the closets and give the clothes and unused toiletries to the local shelter. Pay closer attention to where your products are being manufactured. Donate money to clear a land mine. Read the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" and figure out why you aren't in jail right now. Plan to go protest at the School of the Americas. Support groups of Israelis and Palestinians who are actually looking (together) to find peaceful solutions. Go to Confession, not for all those petty personal sins, but for the corporate ones that continue to keep others in poverty and defeat, all those luxuries that provide your ease of life because of sweatshop labor or pollution to other people's lands.

Be the change you want. And, for God's sake, please stop talking about it.


James said...

Today, my assistant read the class a standard MLK book for kids, and as she was giving the pre-K version of the "I have a dream" speech and talking about how Martin wanted black kids and white kids to play together, I couldn't help but wince at the irony that there are no white kids in our class that would actually make that a reality for this group.

Jane R said...


Though I do have my students read (or listen to, there is audio online) one speech: the "Beyond Vietnam" one. Most of them have no clue that MLK offered an analysis tying together racism, militarism, and capitalism.

Kevin M said...

I have to admit that this rant got started when it was suggested to me that it would be good for me to go to the city MLK Breakfast to be seen and make contacts. At least there is coming to be a growing sentiment to use MLK day for service. And Jane, "Beyond Vietnam" is still one of my favorites. I can remember first using it in a sermon at seminary back in 1983.