MLK Day thoughts from Mississippi (2017)

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. MLK Jr was born on Jan. 15, 1929 and we celebrate his birthday on the third Monday in January each year.

Stevie Wonder wrote and performed this song in advocacy for establishing MLK Day as a nationally recognized holiday.

Over the past couple years, I have been on an inwardly spiritual and outwardly vocal campaign to oppose oppression. I’ve recently come to realize that these two are one in the same and fall under the idea of decolonize my own mind. Sometimes this has looked and sounded vindictive, accusatory and spiteful, outright ugly at times. I hope to move past the negative and aggressive communication style, it’s not going to be easy for me to get over my violent socialization, but I shall try. That said the historical injustice itself is harsh, writing or even thinking about it without internalizing or externalizing the inherent violence is difficult, relating to it is not easy, and the offensive past puts white people in a defensive position (defensiveness is actually a general aspect of suffering that nearly all “white people” experience through colonization, but that will have to wait for another post).

I make this personal shift in my life for myself, it is a reflection of love in my heart and mind. Beyond this personal approach, I hope that this kinder gentler approach will lend itself to a more receptive audience. I have come to understand that, while most of the people who have been oppressed by Western civilization are aware of this oppression, some are angry, most are disillusioned, some are organized, most are not, some follow King’s lead in non-violent resistance, others are ready to ensure their freedom, justice and equality “by any means necessary.”

It actually took 15yrs after MLK’s assassination before activists succeeded in commemorating him in a national day or remembrance. The only way I can begin to understand why this took so long is to do some research and to understand that MLK’s entire career was met with a public and aggressive smear campaign by the FBI to discredit everything he ever did or participated in. In addition, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina campaigned against the holiday, arguing that King was a communist sympathizer and an unfaithful husband. The sad reality is, most of America absolutely loathed this man while he was alive. It is a wonder (and hard won activist battles) that so many of us look back at him in reverence today.

That said, many American still look back in anger and veiled contempt. Sometimes this contempt is not so veiled. I was born and raised in the South, spending childhood and early adult years in Hattiesburg, MS. I am back in these parts as I write this and I’m actively researching the roots of my southern enculturation, once again, this is my personal exercise of decolonizing my mind, I practice vulnerability in making this exploration public. I hope to share some of my findings of how the Civil Rights movement shaped my hometown soon.

Many states dragged their feet in adopting this National holiday, enacted in 1983, New Hampshire didn’t do so until 1999. Here in Mississippi (and in Arkansas and Alabama) the legislature (maybe I should just say “we” since they represent me) decided that, in addition to MLK Day, we would combine it with a holiday we already celebrated—the anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

Despite the fact that these two men stood for two very different ideologies, sheisty dissidents use the civil rights language that defeated their racist ideologies and employ an ironic turn of words claiming that “separate is not equal.”

So, now I am in the awkward position of being from, and currently living in, a state whose legislative charter celebrates “Great Americans Day“. I think this is detestable, but I’m gonna run with it anyway. Here we go…

I think that it is important to not only celebrate the people who made such great strides towards a spirit of oneness and civil society as Martin Luther King Junior. But it is also important to not forget the unconscionable acts of violence, hate, and bigotry that necessitated the existence of both King’s non-violent resistance as well as Malcolm X’s Black Liberation Movement, and the current Black Lives Matter movement (to name jsut a few). While some spiritual traditions would have us believe that this duality balances each other. I tend to err on the side of Assata Shakur’s statement that, “Black revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions. Shaped by our oppression.”

So if folks in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas must remember both General Lee and Reverand King on the same day, let’s remember what both of them stood for. General Robert Edward Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was a Civil War general for the Confederacy, a group of states that seceded from the United States to form a government in which, as Article IV (3) of its constitution stated, “the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected.” As we celebrate this man (in MS, AL & AR), let’s talk about how as a General he led Confederate troops onto the extremely bloody American Civil War, was willing to tear apart our country in order to defend the racial hierarchy that sustained an indiscriminate economy which relied on slave labor to exist. Let us remember that, Lee was a man who lived to the age of 63 and died peacefully at his home in Lexington, Virginia. This is how America lets treasonous (white) men live in society. Let’s remember that only three states honor this man in this way.

Reverand Martin Luther King did may just and righteous deeds in his life. Among these he named the Triple Evils of poverty, racism, and warfare that lead to his (and others) necessary existence, public resistance and civil disobedience. He left us the Kingian six principles of non-violence which paved a path for Civil Rights activism in America. King managed to carve a niche where he kept the powers that be at bay, although they definitely did not leave him alone to do his work. King was respected by many in his own time despite the public media smear campaign the FBI waged against him. When King began to shift his focus towards ending the war, he quickly met the end of his life. His life was snubbed short. Shot in the face, he died violently at the age of 39. Assassinated for being black and powerful in America.

Let us not forget how the existence and resistance of one actually necessitated the existence and resistance of the other. When my good ole’ boy neighbors beam with pride over their stars and bars, (AKA the rebel flag) and note that it isn’t about being racist, it’s about being proud of their heritage, let us always remember that that heritage was predicated on slave labor and stolen native American land. Without these slave owning traditions, there would be no need for an outspoken civil rights leader. We may have never had a Martin Luther King Jr. if it wasn’t for the oppressive roots leading to his noteworthy life and death. Southern pride is one of many faces of the colonized mind as it reinforces itself and refuses to amend the cognitive dissonance that comes up when analytical thought or critical analysis is employed.

In all respect to Martin Luther King, his dream has not yet come to pass. Although he brought us a great many strides forward. We have managed lose a few yards. And now it seems we have fumbled the ball altogether. Yes, we still have work to do. Despite a Black President, we do not live in a post-racial society… Despite the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, we still have modern day slavery and new Jim Crow in the form of criminalization and imprisonment of black and brown people… Despite the integration of the south we still have the undercurrent of hate and bigotry that put a false sense of pride above the basic human dignity of black people, as well as systemic and institutional racism that has created intergenerational trauma for African Americans… Despite a robust #BlackLivesMatter (#BLM) movement, we still have people more concerned with the means of Black liberation than the actual goals. In the face of all this, I will continue to educate myself and decolonize my own mind in the hopes that individual action can also be a powerful form of love, leadership, and civil empathy.

Rest In Power Reverand King. Glory to your name, your life and your spiritual, civic and political leadership.

One Love

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