Some Lessons Society Still Hasn’t Learned From Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I listened to the newly discovered recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech from December 7, 1964 in London, I couldn’t help but notice how many different lessons from his speech we still haven’t learned as a society.  It’s a little more than 50 years later and we still struggle to get over so many hurdles that should have been accomplished so long ago.  Here’s a few instances from the speech that jump out for me.

With the growth of slavery, it became necessary to give some justification for it. You know, it seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness.

While slavery is obviously an evil of the distant past, as it was at the time of the speech, there are still instances where wrongs are thinly justified by almost irrational justifications.  What has really struck me lately has been the white justification of recent police killings of African-American men and children.  One of the commonly shared themes on social media I have witnessed by white posters has been the sharing of horrific stories of African-American men committing crimes against white people and asking, “Where’s the media on this?”  “Where’s the public outcry?”  “Where’s the protest?”  “Where’s Al Sharpton?”

The problem with this, obviously, is it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.  Criminals are criminals and they will commit horrific acts that are unacceptable to society, regardless of the color of their skin or the color of the victim’s skin.  Police officers, however, are supposed to be highly trained peace officers that keep the public safe and respect the rights of all, also regardless of skin color.  There have been some clear instances where this hasn’t been happening and for white people to justify the criminal actions of those that have been trained to act within the law (and have paid no price for it) by posting stories of black-on-white crime is despicable.  This is the definition of “reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong”.

The Negro in the United States turned his eyes and his mind to Africa, and he noticed the magnificent drama of independence taking place on the stage of African history…And with this new sense of dignity and this new sense of self-respect, a new Negro came into being with a new determination to suffer, to struggle, to sacrifice, and even to die, if necessary, in order to be free.

I can’t help but notice how these same words could be spoken about the Arab Spring and the quick changes that came to so many countries in the Arab world.  While things are still in the process of changing in many of those countries and conditions are far from perfect, U.S. actions in relation to the events were (and continue to be) deplorable.  Instead of embracing the people and protesters who put their lives on the line for what our government says it loves, the U.S. government continued to back certain authoritarian regimes and turned a blind-eye (or continued to arm regimes) as countries like Bahrain brutally put down protests to maintain their grasp on power.  Our government officials can pay all the lip service they want to freedom but their actions are a much clearer indicator of their true feelings.

We all know what happened as a result of the old Plessy doctrine: There was always the strict enforcement of the separate, without the slightest intention to abide by the equal.

To say that equality in the overall system reigns supreme today is simply ignoring reality.  The justice system became incredibly lopsided in terms of incarceration rates shortly after King gave this speech as the drug war was ramped up.  Pew Research notes, “In 2010, all black men were six times as likely as all white men to be incarcerated in federal, state and local jails”.  It shouldn’t be surprising that is coupled with disparities in education spending.  The Center for American Progress found U.S. “schools spent $334 more on every white student than on every nonwhite student”.  While the days of overt segregation may be done, the covert methods of segregation are far from gone.

…all types of conniving methods are still being used to keep Negroes from becoming registered voters.

The only words that need to be changed to relate it to Republican and Tea Party actions of present day are the last three.  Just delete those and insert “voting”.  And using the miniscule amount of voter fraud as justification is just another instance of thin rationalization.

So we can see that there is still a great gulf between the haves, so to speak, and the have-nots. And if America is to continue to grow and progress and develop and move on toward its greatness, this problem must be solved.

We just found out the top 1% will own more than half of the world’s wealth by next year soooo, this has not only not changed for the better, it’s gotten incredibly worse.  I’m sure Dr. King would be rightfully appalled.

Today, great leaders, like Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, are among the many hundreds wasting away in Robben Island prison. Against a massive, armed and ruthless state, which uses torture and sadistic forms of interrogation to crush human beings, even driving some to suicide.

While King might not be surprised torture and sadistic forms of interrogation are still being used today, he would probably be shocked to know the U.S. government was using them recently and using rendition to allow more harsh methods.  How could the people we elected choose to commit crimes that we knew were reprehensible so long ago?  Still an astounding decision.

If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil, if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for that racial tyranny that we find there, then apartheid would be brought to an end. Then the majority of South Africans of all races could at last build the shared society they desire.

A few situations around the world come to mind here but none more prominent than Israel and the continued support given to it by the U.S. despite the crimes it commits against so many in the West Bank and Gaza.  The U.S. has the power to pressure the Israeli government into allowing the formation of a Palestinian state yet does the exact opposite by continuing to arm Israel, who then uses those arms to kill thousands of Palestinians using incredibly questionable justifications (there’s that word again…).  The U.S. has the answer to the problem but chooses to ignore it.

…we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, Hindus and Muslims, theists and atheists—will be able to join hands and sing…

Religious tolerance?!  Blasphemer!!

I’m kidding, of course, but this is certainly a lesson that still hasn’t made its way into the psyche of America, and that definitely includes parties on both sides of the political spectrum.  The amount of Islamophobia running rampant in the Western world right now is startling.  King would be heartbroken, for sure, but would fight on as always.

…there are some things in the world, to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation, discrimination, colonialism and these particular forces. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I must say to you tonight that I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.

Maybe the most powerful words to live by in the speech.  Certainly worth the quote.  If only we could all be so lucky as to be so maladjusted…

 

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