MLK Day: A Time for Reflection

Today is MLK Day, and I have to work. Even though I know this will be my new normal until I return to the States, it still feels a bit odd.

I’ve been reflecting about MLK and how far American society has come as of late.

And I’ve been thinking about how far we still have to go.

As I watched the multi-cultural protests against police brutality last month, I felt hopeful and inspired. Yes, Black Lives Matter. I’m glad to see that others are publicly saying what Blacks in the US have been screaming since the days of Reconstruction: state violence against Brown bodies is real.

Then, there was the tragic killing of the two NYPD officers. The day of Officer Ramos’s funeral I wept when thinking about one of his sons, the same age as the students I teach. I couldn’t imagine having to grieve in such a public manner.

But I could imagine how one deranged Black man’s killing of two cops would be used to speak out against the protests. I can’t tell from my vantage point here in South America, but it seems as if all the needed conversations in light of the Eric Garners and Michael Browns of the world came to a halt. The protests and the protest coverage came to a halt.

But has the movement come to a halt?

I sure hope not.  And in my heart of hearts, I know the movement is still continuing.

What that one deranged man did--and let’s not forget he also brutalized a Black woman when he shot her in the stomach and stole her phone before heading to NYC–is not justification for the overuse of force against the average Joe Schmoe (who is often visualized as being White).

It’s cheap to use the death of two people, who pledged to protect against the darkness that is society’s underbelly, as a way to silence all conversation about police wrongdoing.

People who blindly pledge allegiance to one side or the other without being able to see the nuance or the gray are fools, plain and simple. I ask more from my 7th graders when writing an argumentative paper, so I damn sure want more from adults on both sides of the issue.

The night before I caught my return flight to Venny, my mom and I went and saw SelmaNo, the police brutality that raged on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that Bloody Sunday isn’t to those levels again, but we all saw this picture from Ferguson, right?

So, this MLK day I feel the social justice spirit that died in me after my first year of teaching slowly reigniting. I’m currently reading Just Mercy, I’m reading the latest issue of Esssence with its beautiful cover proclaiming that Black Lives Matter, and I’m thinking about what I can do not just on MLK Day but throughout the years to lessen injustice and increase equality.



7 thoughts on “MLK Day: A Time for Reflection

  1. “… and I’m thinking about what I can do not just on MLK Day but throughout the years to lessen injustice and increase equality.”

    That, my dear sister, is what we should all take away from MLK Day. We must make MLK Day everyday or it means nothing more than a time, once a year, to trot out trite messages that we immediately store away for next year. As some of my friends like to ask: “Will the poor and the oppressed miss me when I am gone?”

    BTW, you just made me add a book, Just Mercy, to my already overly-long reading list. 🙂

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. Bryan Stevenson–the author of Just Mercy–has a great analysis of how the US treats its civil rights history on The Daily Show. I included it below. I’ve been staying up late reading Just Mercy when I should be sleeping. The section I read is so horrifying I’m honestly wondering if I’m going to have nightmares. I haven’t had THAT thought since I was a kid.

      I think that’s a profound question to ask oneself concerning the poor and the oppressed. I definitely think the poor and the oppressed will miss Bryan Stevenson. I am so, so inspired by him.

      As always, thanks for stopping by the blog.

  2. “The opposite of poverty is justice.”

    I just listened to Bryan Stevenson, via the link you posted. His analogy of the Civil Rights Movement as being taught as a three-day event is SO telling and so appropriate. His comments on the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission are dead on. Our society needs to confront its past, not simply ignore it. It happened. We need to deal with it. Period.

    There is no need to thank me. I’m the one who needs to thank you. I stop by your blog because yours is one of the few blogs I’ve found written by ex-pats from the US whose view of the world I can relate to. You deal with issues that impact me. Your focus is refreshing for someone who sometimes feels tired of shouting into the wind. I like what you say and how you say it.

    Just for the record, I’m an “old” white Southerner who went to segregated schools as a kid and lived through that “three-day event”. Although I had the privilege of not being affected directly by the evils that it confronted, it made an impression on me. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how people could be denied their rights, given the “promise” of our country and its Constitution. (I still can’t, for that matter.) I became an activist in the very early 70s and basically never quit being one at some level. Before I retired as a teacher, I saw my role in the classroom as an extension of my activism. It was part of my commitment to truth and justice. I see that same commitment in you, which is why I keep coming back here to read. We — you and I — may not always know how to proceed, but we both know that we have no choice but to do so. It’s like breathing. We can’t stop.

    Take care and thank you for writing what you do.

    • Your kind, sincere comments have lifted my spirits so, so much. I didn’t respond earlier because I was honestly just letting your words sink in and feeling so grateful for them.

      I love what you said about never quitting your activist work on some level, and I love that you’re a white Southerner fighting for social justice! The South has an UGLY history. America–“from sea to shining sea” has an ugly history. That being said, I think people need to recognize that there are Southerners who acknowledge and actively fight against America’s dark history and opaque present. I find that that is too hard for people to wrap their minds around though, and it’s frustrating.

      I went into teaching as social justice work too! I can’t lie; my first year was so miserable (and the next four markedly better but still very dispiriting) I’m surprised I’m still in the classroom now. I don’t see myself staying in the classroom much longer, but I do see myself in education continuing to fight against social inequality and fight for access to a quality education (I don’t think charter schools are the answer). I honestly lost my social justice spirit in NYC. Your words, the books I’m reading, Ferguson, Eric Garner…all of these things are relighting the fire because you’re right. It’s like breathing. We have no other choice.

      It’s interesting what you said about being an expat too! I actively struggle with that word because of its negative connotation for me (even though, clearly, I’m an expat!). I’ve posted about it once or twice (and included a link to an old post below). I’m trying to stay accountable!

  3. Just a couple of anecdotes to further this conversation. Reality is that the humanist, liberal values that have guided me for the past 50 years I learned in the South from Southerners – Black, White and other… (I was raised in an area of Oklahoma that is appropriately called “Little Dixie” for a reason.) I have always reveled in busting the white Southern male stereotype. It’s fun. It also catches people off guard, which is good. (Yep, I have a country accent and speak with a twangy drawl. Always have. Always will.) One case, eons ago, was during the Occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. I was on the inside with the traditional Lakota and AIM warriors and spent most of my time operating our radio network, which meant both contacting our bunkers and patrols and, occasionally, trading messages with the Feds. I would start my day, every day, by greeting the Feds with “Good Morning, Red Arrow [the name of their field headquarters] from the Independent Oglala Nation, free territory of North America”, laying on my drawl as thickly as I could. Most of the Feds, at least the ones on the radio, were Southern rednecks (with badges, guns and the support of the US government behind them). I’d do it just to get their goat… let them know that there were Southern radicals inside… I’ve mellowed a little since then, but not much.

    I like your opposition of the words “immigrant” and “expat”. I rarely use the word “expat” when referring to myself. This is my third major time out of the US and every time I’ve left, I’ve lived on the local economy and been very, very much immersed in local reality. Your analysis of “expats” seems to be right on, which is why I tend to avoid them. There are a few groups here in Brazil (none where I live, though) of expats who are physically here, but not culturally. Most Americans I’ve met who are living outside the US seem to be doing so on a lark and don’t seem to have a real commitment to where they are living. (There are, of course, glorious exceptions.) They know they can always go home if things get too weird. In my current position in Brazil, there is no privilege for me. I’m subject to the same economy everyone else is and my Oklahoma teacher’s pension doesn’t go very far at all. Local salaries are, well, pretty low — around US$900/mo. We are constantly treading water. (My wife is Brazilian…) I’ve recently applied for citizenship, so I guess “immigrant” is much more appropriate. Hopefully, in about a year, I will have a Brazilian passport…

    Now, for a little shameless self promotion. I have a blog, to which I have not dedicated nearly enough time of late, but here is the link:

    Browse around it. The last two posts are recent (Thanksgiving and the Senate Torture Report). There is one entry from May 2013 about being from Oklahoma that probably says a lot about who I am. (It is in response to a tornado that slammed through a city I used to live in.) This is the link:

    I am SO glad I stumbled across your blog. Sister, I do believe we have much to talk about.

    • I just went to your blog and posted some comments. Thanks for telling me about it! I tried to follow it but had some trouble. I’m going to try again from work where my internet connection is more stable. Your blog has forced me to reflect on grave injustices that I pushed to the back of my mind once I started working full time. I went from being in a program that focused on human rights abuses in the US and abroad to just not caring and not doing anything (volunteering, protesting, nada) when I started working. I grew cynical when seeing how people can exploit your genuine wish to do well for their benefit and not for the cause. I now refer to such people and institutions as snakes in the grass.

      I loved the piece on Oklahoma. It was beautifully written. Home is such a powerful place no matter how beautiful or how ugly it can be. I still can’t fully understand why home has so much power, such magnetism, to me and to others. I’ve never been to Oklahoma before, but you make me want to see Oklahoma’s Panhandle.

      I hope your Brazilian citizenship process goes smoothly! I love what you say about people being physically in a place but not culturally. That’s the expat existence in a nutshell. It’s a willed, chosen separation. This just makes me want to go back to graduate school and study this other aspect of human life too, and then connect it back to change and equality. We’ll see.

      I had no idea about The Occupation of Wounded Knee. I just did research on it and learned a ton. When I think about past protests and occupations, I wonder what happened to that aspect of our society. There’s still so much to protest, yet it seems like grievances are not manifesting themselves in the same way.

      I’ve been sitting, reading, and reflecting all day thanks to our posts back and forth. We definitely have much more to discuss!

  4. Pingback: History of Lynchings (aka Domestic Terrorism) in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names | (Im)Migrating with a Purpose

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