I would like to preempt this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with the following message:
There are certain things you can count on ever year. Christmas lights going up the day after Thanksgiving. Revival of last year’s weight loss New Year’s resolution. And, of course, the annual posting of the Dr. Martin Luther King memes on Facebook. You know the ones:
I want to be clear: I know we post these memes, these quotes, these words of eloquence because we hope that it will speak to our heart’s desire – to live in a world with less hate (especially in these days.) To promote optimism, hope and perhaps compassion and empathy for our fellow citizens of the world is all good and comes from the best part of us.
But there’s something about THIS time, something about today’s world of “fake news,” white supremacists walking with tiki pitchforks across college campuses, of legislators (people who are responsible for the very laws of this land) saying things like this:
Where I have to ask, are those words, with all their
beauty and their eloquence enough?
A friend of mine told me a story about her Thanksgiving. She was relaying a story about going home to a family dinner of, in her own words, “backward thinking racists” and having to listen to some of the most sexist, homophobic and racist language she had ever heard in her life. “I couldn’t take it,” she told me. “I just had to get up and leave.”
I shook my head and said I understood. Then I asked her a question: “Did you say anything before you left?”
She looked at me, shaking her head curiously. “Why would I respond?”
“Because,” I said. “Walking out may not convey condemnation. It may be saying, ‘I’m disgusted, so I’ll remove myself from this. But you go on ahead with that language and thinking.’ If I had been a friend who had come home with you, would you have spoken up for me?”
I didn’t get an answer.
Listen. The old days are done, ya’ll.
During “a time of reason,” it was acceptable to call yourself an “ally”, and not be asked to be responsible for taking a stand, whether confronting that bigoted racist family member or confronting your own biases, for we all have them.
Justice and believing in equality and those principles we all believe are at the heart of what America can and should be aren’t trends. You can’t meme it, wear the t-shirt and hat and go to the march and expect that will be enough to ensure the rights of the people you know and love won’t be violated. Ally and love are verbs. They require commitment to act, movement and progress. When I think about if I’m meeting the requirements of “allyship”, I remember that being a good ally, a good citizen, is actually similar to being a good friend. Requires the same level of effort, focus and determination. Same time commitment, struggles, and sometimes sacrifice and a lot of discomfort. But the reward? On the reward!
This year, challenge yourself to not be silent. Don’t turn away. When something happens, close to you or halfway around the world, where the darkness of injustice requires the light of equality, are you watching? Are you listening? Are you making yourself knowledgeable? Are you talking to others to educate or educate yourself? Are you silent?
Every year, I reread “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” the definitive treatise in my mind on both resistance and resilience. Today, let me leave you two of my favorite quotes from Dr. King which I rarely ever see make the rounds:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
Save a meme. Be an ally. Speak truth to power.