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Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2021 – A New Civil Rights Era

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day feels extra poignant right now. The Civil Rights era was over 60 years ago and hindsight is certainly 2020, in 2021. I think most people looking back no matter the age or political alignment would, of course, put themselves on the side of marching for equal rights, right??? When we are in it – like we are now, we don’t have the benefit of hindsight and maybe it’s not so obvious to everyone what is right and wrong, as clearly demonstrated in today’s culture. As I was thinking about the parallels between the ’60s and now, I had some thoughts. This post, by the way, is mostly written to my White readers, as racism and White supremacy is our problem to fix and we are being called right now to do so. So (mostly) ladies, we are in the middle of a very important movement, and listen, the work has just begun so here are some of my current thoughts.

This year, or perhaps last year, we learned that a lot of Americans live in denial that racism exists in this country – the “Post-racial’ era, right? Well, nope. Beyond systemic racism, what has come fully out the last few years, so obviously displayed in the insurrection a few weeks ago, hearkens back to the ’50s and ’60s in its overtness – which makes racism and white supremacy officially undeniable, if it wasn’t already, to everyone with eyeballs. The people at the Capitol holding confederate flags, and donning white supremacists and anti semitic t-shirts have made their intention clear. To me it was even more of a call to action – having it out in the open means we ALL have to be out in the open, too. And that those who stand against white supremacy should do just that – actively take a stand against it. If their message was/is clear, our’s need to be even clearer (AND MUCH LOUDER). We are in a new Civil Rights Era, and to quote Hamilton, “I’m not going to waste my shot”.

image source

But how exactly we stand against white supremacy can mean many different things for different people – let me explain. I recently read that in order to really enact permanent change there needs to be protest, conversation, and action on every level in every industry – as Obama said you can’t enact change without protest AND policy. But it’s not just up to politicians or activists – they can only do so much. Like in the ’60s it has to become a societal and cultural movement, which has begun, yet again. I think, nay I know that a lot of white women specifically are intimidated for a variety of reasons to speak out against White supremacy. Maybe it’s the loyalty to the patriarchy, maybe it’s guilt, maybe it’s fear or doing it wrong.

Look, I’m neither a “political activist” nor a “politician,” I’m a designer, small business owner, blogger, mom but I have a voice and platform. It might be different than what you would do, but that’s kinda the point – we all do the version of protesting and calling for change in the industries and avenues in which we thrive. Yes, we need to get outside our comfort zones (and I know that a lot of us finally have this year) but it’s important to know that we can all be a part of the change if we participate and give what WE can individually to the greater good. You hone in on where your power and influence lies, and use THAT. Whether it’s hiring practices, writing letters quietly, protesting loudly, donating to anti-racist groups or yes, taking to social media. O and maybe the most important way, raising anti-racist kids We are all powerful in different ways and in industries, different geographical setting, different religions, different communities. Especially those of us who are White – This is OUR problem to solve. White people, White women must do what we can to stand up to White Supremacy, full stop.

So I’ll leave you with Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous ‘I have a dream speech’ that I hadn’t fully read in years. It’s still very applicable and appropriate for 2020 and 2021, despite being written in 1963, which is depressing but perhaps his words can also still be a source of motivation – for all of us. Don’t just skip over it because you know it – reading the whole thing this year felt very poignant for me. I’ve put in BOLD the sentences that felt extra poignant to me this year.

image source

“I Have a Dream” Speech by Martin Luther King Jr.

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. [applause]

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds”.

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. **We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.”** We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”1

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!3

It’s still so powerful, and unfortunately still applicable. If you have some tissues near watch the video (also embedded below) and if you have kids watch it with them – we had a great conversation about it afterward and the kids asked such brave questions (and thanks to so much literature out there by Black activists and educators we feel more confident in our answers than we ever have before).

I guess what I’ve been thinking about and the message I want to send today is that everyone has a voice, everyone has some power, and everyone can influence others. Don’t not do it out of guilt or fear, you won’t do it perfectly, (I mess up ALL the time) but it’s better than living in denial or being silent. Hopefully in 50 years from now, with the clarity of hindsight, we’ll realize that we were called to be a part of this Civil Rights era, and hopefully, we answered that call and stood up. While there’s no swipe-up button against white supremacy, hopefully having my/our stance out there can give you/others some confidence to use your voice and power to influence others to stand and act against racism and white supremacy.

That wonderful man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced the whole world. He wasn’t alone fighting in that era, but he certainly made a massive difference forever. If you would have fought against racism, white supremacy (and bigotry of every form), in 1963 then let’s use our voice and power to do that now, in 2021. xx

Opening Image Credit: via Huffington Post

Fin Mark

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ML

Thank you for using your platform for this urgent and important message.

CSK

As a white, female high school principal and history teacher I thank you for using your platform for justice. All of us need to engage in this work.

Vera

Thank you Emily!

Karen

Thanks for using your platform and acknowledging imperfection as we learn to do better.

Hayley

Thank you Emily. I will certainly try.

Rusty

“The fierce urgency of now…” It is urgent. And it is now. Generation Alpha and those after them will BE the change if we all do this right. “We cannot walk alone.” Even if you don’t consider yourself racist, you still have a role, a part to play. Maybe even a more important part, because you’re already aware? Those who can see can shed light and show the way through our individual choices, actions and speech. We can call others out (gently or fiercly, depending on the situation) and LEAD BY EXAMPLE … just as Emily and her team are doing. (Yaaay, team EHD!!!) 🤗 Emily you wrote “…which makes racism and white supremacy officially undeniable, if it wasn’t already, to everyone with eyeballs…” Yup. We all have eyeballs (well, the majority of us), yet it’s the danged coloured filters that we wear that can cause or perpetuate the problem. Some are born with or into filters, others have them drilled into them through family, community, culture; as with every prejudice, big or small. Simply because we’re born or bred into a way if being, does NOT mean we are immovable, rigid, crystalized beings. Humans can mold, shapeshift and (eeeooowwrrgghhh… Read more »

K

Thank you for posting this today, Emily!

Rusty

“In fact we were so exactly in the middle of history that we had no way of understanding what we were seeing.” Ann Patchett (the essay shared by Arlyn & Caitlin)

We are all in the middle of history, right here, now.

Roberta Davis

It’s still a great message and the struggle continues. Yes, we can all do something.

Jeanie

Thank you for sharing. My hope for this week is peace. 💙💙💙💙💙

Henry McKee

I appreciate you using your platform to open up conversations about racism and MLK’s message. I would really like to hear from non-whites so that we can collectively listen and learn.

Suzanne

I’ve found that a great way to “listen and learn” is by engaging with the media that BIPOC have already created on these topics. Here is a great list of anti-racist resources, organized by where you’re at in your justice journey:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PrAq4iBNb4nVIcTsLcNlW8zjaQXBLkWayL8EaPlh0bc/mobilebasic
I think it’s wise to start by educating ourselves rather than asking our BIPOC friends and neighbors to do the work for us.

Henry McKee

Thank you Suzanne for the point about responsibility in educating ourselves and for the resource. Just listened to video by Dr. DiAngelo.

Jane

Take a look at Michael Harriot’s piece: “Martin Luther King Jr. and the White Delusion of a ‘Non-Racist’ America”
Michael Harriohttps://www.theroot.com/martin-luther-king-jr-and-the-white-delusion-of-a-non-1831910328

Donna

Thank you, Emily. I was a white pre-teen in 1963, and obviously lived through the turbulent years that followed. I am so very sad today that this message still seems “new” to so many. I think I always knew the struggle would go on during my lifetime, but never expected to have to explain the present level of vitriol in the news to my grandchildren. But here we are, and we will keep educating as long as it takes.

Nanny

These posts by middle-class white-privileged peeps crack me up.
Much like the artistic crowd in the 1930s crowing about the bright new Socialist future awaiting us all . . . . I defy you to check back in in ten years and see how these virtue signalling posts have aged like fresh milk.
Hilarious. Do as I say, not as I do. . . yes, the solution to all our problems is an even bigger Government which will solve all of our problems and we’ll all hold hands (except for those evil MAGA lot who need to go to re-education camps) and sing kumbaya.
The vast majority of the public have a childlike faith in this media and are incapable of the level of critical thought required to defend themselves from manipulation.

Eliot

So what would you suggest Nanny?

Henry McKee

Thank you Nanny for highlighting the lack of trust and cynicism someone of color must feel when whites speak of racism. We need to hear and understand this.

Did she say she was black?

Melody

Nanny,
There are many middle class, white privileged, people that really want to do better. We have to start somewhere, so honestly Nanny tell us how do we begin. I am a reader, so what do you suggest? I do not have faith in our media, and would never let them shape my beliefs or opinions. We have over 7 million racist people in this country, and those are just the one’s that voted. I have no idea how it is to be a person of color in this country, but I have a very small inkling, just by being a woman in a mans world. I cannot say with a straight face that I have never had a racist thought, or unknowingly made a racist comment. I know that for me it is fear, of saying or doing the wrong thing. So, I am asking how I start to understand, and teach my grandchildren to understand what it means to be a person of color in this country, and how I can help to bring about change in my small circle of people.

Rusty

Well put, Melody.

Kelsie S.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’m in tears reading yours and Martin Luther King Jr’s words and am bolstered by their truth and power. I believe we are in a very important era in our nation’s and our world’s history and I am happy to join the cause. Thank you for speaking out and speaking up. This will get better as long as we continue to shape up and make policies that support a change in perspective.

Christa

About 10 years ago I reached a point where I was 100% fed up with the patriarchy and decided that whenever I recognized people being talked down to, ignored or not taken seriously because they were not an older white male, that I was going to speak up. It’s mostly ignored, or they just label me a feminist or liberal or whatever, as if that somehow makes it OK for them to continue the comfortable status quo that keeps them above the rest of us. They may have the power now, but equality is winning, slow but sure.

Christa

What I am trying to say is Thank you, Emily. And here is a really simple way to do something. SPEAK UP. Not to start an argument, just to observe and point out – we have rights too.

Rusty

Speaking up works… It’s like chipping away at a wall with a spoon, but, ya know? You can actually break that wall down with a spoon!
Imagine lots of spoons wotking together!
It. Is. Possible. x

Suz

The perfect post for the days ahead.

BW

I encourage you and everyone reading this to read MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. I think it would be even more poignant for Emily and this crowd than his I Have a Dream speech.

Suzanne

I was going to say the same thing. Here’s a link, although it can be found many places.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail

https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I also recommend listening to some of his later speeches, which talk more about policy changes. I think it was the “The Other America” speech I listened to that was particularly poignant, but I haven’t had a chance to listen to it again. Here’s a link to some of his speeches:

https://www.pbs.org/weta/washingtonweek/blog-post/5-martin-luther-king-jr’s-most-memorable-speeches

Michelle

I got teary-eyed re-reading Dr. King’s speech. Another quote of his that has always resonated deeply with me: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963) We have work to do <3

The struggle continues. Thank you, Emily, for specifically addressing your white readership and using your platform.

Jane

“America is now as it was then. It is two things.

For white people, this country is a beautiful illusion. It remains a land of bounty, filled with endless possibilities for them. It fertilizes their hopes and turns their dreams into reality. And, in their minds, nothing as incredibly fantastic as this can be simultaneously racist.

For us, America is simply a place. We have never been able to afford the rose-colored glasses that filter out our nation’s blemishes. It is impossible for us to forgive and forget this country’s original sin — not because we bear the scars — but because this country, year after year — continues to pour salt into the wound.” – Michael Harriot writing for The Root

Link: https://www.theroot.com/martin-luther-king-jr-and-the-white-delusion-of-a-non-1831910328

Jenny

And the best part about that speech? Most of the best part was extemporaneously pulled from other speeches he’d given. Such a gifted public speaker. Thanks for sharing.

Jill McKenna

Thank you.

Char

Thank you, Emily. My effort to better understand has begun with reading more NF in this area. I do my best in this small, mostly white, town to speak up, but facts will get me further than emotions. We can all have a voice and a platform in even a small manner.

Jaclyn

Thank you for speaking against white supremacy and calling white women to understanding and action. This is so important.

thanks for using your platform to share this emily. i think that is the minimum we can do – speak up and say something. next steps – following up with actions. ‘ One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying.’ shared the rest of Dr. King’s excerpt here: https://tps-steph.blogspot.com/2021/01/0057-20-for-2020.html

Jess A

Emily, great post. I want to call out the advertising that I’m getting because I’m not sure you know or can control it. It’s for Blaroken (whatever that is) and they are advertising camo shirts with American flags, skull and crossbones, eagles, etc. – stuff that is clearly “riot wear”.

I have NEVER looked at anything even remotely similar to this on any of my devices, and I don’t think this is an accident. Is it possible this advertiser is targeting your post? I don’t like it, and I didn’t think you would either. Just giving you a heads up.

Rusty

Y I K E S ! 😳
Right there … that’s calling it and speaking out!
Little, tiny, elephant steps.

Cami

Seriously, this is what we’ve become. A society who is so easily offended that our own flag is a trigger. Maybe people should read up about color revolutions, Mao, Marxism, communism, and so forth. The divisiveness and discord are intentional.

I’d love to be a people who are judged by character and not color. The exact opposite of this post – where white people are judged solely based on their skin color.

Eliot

You could probably stand to read up on “Mao, Marxism, communism, and so forth” yourself Cami. Read Marx’s “The Eighteenth Brumaire” and let us know what you’ve learned. (Hint: the divisiveness and discord are, indeed, intentional, but clearly not in the way you think)

Nicole

I saw this too and I’m in Australia and have never sought such images/content. Reported it to Google.

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