Monday, January 17, 2011

revisiting patience for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today I was confronted by benign impatience. It was meant to be harmless, poking fun at the serious history lesson of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fact that we the people got this extra holiday. It seems not everyone is on board. The Governor of Maine changed his mind about it, as did many others. Why, if we have a black President, do we need to be reminded of our heinous, racist past all the time? Why indeed? Wouldn't it be so much better to simply put the holocaust behind us? Wouldn't it be so much better if we forgot the time when women were legally beaten by their husbands and didn't have the right to vote in this country? Wouldn't it be better to forget that the children of America once worked in sweatshops? Wouldn't it be better to wipe the memory of every mining disaster that ever happened?

These were not necessarily overtly racist, bigoted people posing this question about MLK Day, and unintentionally implying all the rest. Their world works for them and they assume we're pointing fingers, I suppose, when we say, "the work is not complete."

They would like for us to say something else like, "Good job! Your world is such a great example. It's enough simply for you to live well, to teach your children to live well,  and to isolate yourself from the things that don't seem to be working, as if they are stinky piles of offending garbage." Of course, we cannot say that. Then they attack the principle of the day on the grounds of truth. It seems to be getting worse.

There are many people still left behind. What's with that? Worse yet, it seems like there is a new crop of virulent racist, misogynist and classist groups emerging. There are conspiracies and domestic terrorists, and there are drug wars and high unemployment. There are homeless people in America. There are CRAZY people with guns. There's SLAVERY in this day and age, in America, for goodness sakes. What's with that, if Dr. King did such a good job? Why shouldn't we ignore history? Fat lot of good it does for us if no one ever feels better.

The movements of Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and others in the pursuit of non-violent change had one major thing in common: patience.

So, I've been trying to explain to myself why I believe that we should stay on course with revealing our history and putting neon arrows over the suffering of today. As one friend, Libby Pratt, said, "Silence only enables the oppressor." Talking about our true human condition and acting upon it comes down to patience. Not benign, inactive patience, but patient struggle.

It seems to me that it is no longer socially acceptable in many circles to be overtly racist, sexist and classist. People dance around their own beliefs about superiority apologetically when they slip up, but for the most part know, even in their discomfort with it, that it is questionable to believe in anything besides equality. Some are simply trying to talk themselves into agreement and some really do believe the tenets of equality. The places where it never is mentioned, liberal places and conservative places alike, are a bubble of believing that these real inequalities and injustices no longer exist and so when the media takes a few weeks at the beginning of the year to shine the light on unpleasant memories and present terrible realities, the people living in the bubbles literally have to experience their own denial. It's really disturbing to anyone to have to acknowledge one's own denial and the remedy for it often is, like a hangover, to get back to denial as quickly and seamlessly as possible. We are, as a culture, drunk with denial.

The other thing about these behaviors becoming less acceptable on a broad scale is that people who adhere to them are becoming increasingly isolated. Their worlds exist under the radar of popular culture. This is both good and bad. It's good because the balance seems tipped towards edging these distorted belief systems out of society. It's bad because if they're hiding most of the time, then we feel comfortable being half asleep about their existence. We feel justified in believing that they're outnumbered therefore irrelevant. They are not irrelevant. Not only are they very dangerous, they are our own shadows. Full of fear, angered by the perception of loss of opportunity, they're arming themselves to the teeth and they thrive on hate. Until we bring them into the light of loving kindness and acceptance (notice I did not use the word tolerance), then they will continue to frustrate our denial with shoot-outs at the local grocery stores.

Patient struggle is all that it implies: not easy, not quick and possibly never-ending. Patient struggle is what I do in order to write. Patient struggle is what parent's routinely do to teach their child as much as they can before sending them out into this difficult world. Patient struggle is what Dr. King was about. We cannot afford to be impatient.

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