We are at war. We always have been.
Not a literal war – but an intellectual war of ideals; a religious war of beliefs; a cultural war of acceptability and respectability; an economic war of haves vs. have-nots.
We are all fighting for our side to win. For some, a win is reaching the mountaintop and staying there. For others, a win is simply getting out of the valley of the shadow of death. Either way, we’re all fighting to ascend.
This means war.
To be elevated is to be in constant battle with the forces of nature be it the earth’s gravitational pull or the forces of evil – there’s always something or someone waiting to knock us down.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood the art of war. He understood the adversarial relationship between good and evil and he understood that to be a proponent of justice – incessantly met by the resistance of the opposition – would possibly be to sacrifice life itself. Yet he committed his life to be a guardian of peace, a drum major for Justice, a general in the fight for racial reconciliation – standing firm in his faith, being courageous, being strong (1 Cor 16:13-14). And he fought, to his death. He died on the battlefield for a dream that we would one day live in a nation where we would not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. And today, on what would have been Dr. King’s 88th birthday, I sometimes wonder if he died in vain?
I wonder because as a young black man in America, I can’t breathe. I can’t swim. I can’t drive. I can’t walk on the sidewalk at night or down the street during the day. I can’t play outside with a toy gun or inside where they are sold, I can’t listen to music too loud and I can’t even pray. And so I wonder; I wonder where it’s safe to be me anymore. Not outside of a convenience store selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island. Not at a swimming pool or driving in your car in Texas. Not walking down the street in Ferguson. Not at a park or inside a Wal-Mart in Ohio. Not at a gas station in your own car or walking on the sice walk in your own neighborhood in Florida. Not at church for bible study in Charleston. Not reading a book while waiting for your son to get off the school bus in Charlotte. Not exiting the BART subway to celebrate the New Year in Oakland; and not on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
Yet society tells me that all I have to do be safe is get an education, speak well, wear a suit, and I’m covered. But I remind society that Dr. King was well educated, well spoken, and was killed and buried well dressed. So sometimes I wonder if his living was in vain?
Dr. King died for a dream but I’m afraid it was a dream deferred; a dream not fully realized as we’ve come far by faith but not far enough. Who will be our King; our general to be on guard, to stand firm in the faith, to be courageous, to be strong on our behalf as we line up side by side shoulder to shoulder prepared to move forward in battle? Many of us believed the election of Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States was also the inauguration of a new general in the battle against injustice for all, but particularly for people of color – the 2nd coming of Dr. King, if you will.
But if you know anything about the position of the presidency, you know that this was one dream that would never come to pass. And while there is mostly praise and adoration for President Obama just days before the end of his 2 term presidency, there are equal amounts of think-pieces circulating that criticize his leadership for what it did not do for people who looked like him. I reckon President Obama will be more the Liberator in Chief we’d all hoped for out of office, but whether or not you believed he’d be King 2.0 in office, it’s clear that he wasn’t.
And he didn’t have to be.
Dr. King isn’t coming back in the form of a black president, or a journalist of the same name, or an NFL Quarterback, and he doesn’t need to.
It’s my belief that our success as a movement hinges upon our ability to lead not as individuals, but as a unified front. A unified front united by our shared humanity. Such leadership has proven to be effective as seen with the fight for marriage equality for the LGBTQI community; a movement which made positive strides despite not having a definitive identifiable leader. The success of this movement was in the collective voice of LGBTQI and allies and their ability to coalesce around pointed issues, using their strength in numbers to leverage change.
We are better together.
But before we can move together, we have to first stay together, and before we can stay together, we have to do some difficult internal work. We have to unpack some of our cultural baggage and leave some things behind, both whites and people of color, because we can’t take everything with us. The journey is too long, the road too rough – a war not yet won. We’ve got work to do…
This is an excerpt from a longer article that can be read in its entirety at UBtheCURE.