We Will Get There: Reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy

I wrote this in January 2011 for the third issue of Kehila Magazine. In honor of MLK Day I present it to you: 

I am a descendant of slaves. My people were once slaves owned by Egyptians and my people were also slaves owned by Whites. Hundreds of years have passed since then, and now we have just started the year 2011. As we begin to celebrate and honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, I begin to reflect.

What is his legacy? I believe that it is the pursuit of the American dream; it’s entering the promise land.

For a lot of people, the American dream is the house with a white picket fence and apple pie. That’s not what I envision. I see a house with a purple fence and I don’t like apple pie or any type of pie for that matter. I’m more of a cookie and brownie person.
The American dream is where everyone is treated equally-it doesn’t matter if they’re rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if they’re yellow, black, white, or brown; Atheist, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish; young, old, or straight or gay. You are treated equally and people judge you by your character and nothing else. That’s the promise land baby, and we haven’t arrived yet.
Granted, there are people who believe and say that racism is over, that it doesn’t exist! There are some who even believe that if you’re person a color and you complain about racism, then you are unpatriotic. The say “Look America elected a black president!” to prove their point. To them I say Bzzzz! Wrong! Racism does exist. It’s not a myth like the tooth fairy. It might not be blatantly out in public, but it is everywhere. From our prisons, our schools, neighborhoods, etc., it’s been institutionalized.

Now to the point of electing the first Black President, yes people voted for him based on his character, and that was a step in the right direction. But to say that racism doesn’t exist because of that is wrong. It was there when the senator shouted out “You Lie!” during the state of the union address. It’s there when people say Barack Hussein Obama in an effort to spread lies about his religion and to spread fear about Muslims. It’s there when there are people called birthers who continue not to acknowledge that the president is an American-born and raised. It’s there when there are some people who believe that the president is the anti-Christ or that he’s “anti-Christ like”. It’s there in the textbooks approved by a Board of Education in Texas that change the name of the slave trade to the Atlantic triangular trade, in order to downplay this significance and impact of this historic event. It’s there whenever people talk about immigration reform. Yes Sarah, racism does exist!

How do we stop racism? As long as there is hate in the world, racism will always exist. However, as long as there good in the world to fight the evil that exist, we can try to eradicate racism and push it to the fringes of society. In this country, we haven’t yet had an honest conversation about race that included everyone at the table-white, black, brown, yellow, and biracial. White people get frustrated about this because when they say anything about race, a lot of times they are usually called a racist.

Sometimes when a person says something about race, it may come out in a way that it wasn’t intended to-i.e. Senator Harry Reid. That doesn’t mean that they are a racist. Looking at his record and his actions, I know that this man isn’t a racist, but what he said did offend people-it offended me. When that occurred, a lot of folks were trying to defend republicans with Senator Trent Lott’s statement about segregation. I know that there are republicans who are not racist, but seriously you couldn’t use Lott’s statement as a defense! He was basically saying that he agreed Thurmond with about his view of segregation.

So what should we as Americans do concerning racism? Well first off, I think that a real acknowledgement of slavery should occur. What slavery left America with was the prejudiced, hateful, racist beliefs that have poured down over the years. It nearly destroyed black families; it killed millions of black people. It was genocide. The slave trade is also called Maafa by African and African-American scholars, and it means “holocaust” or “great disaster” in Swahili. Also some scholars use the terms African Holocaust or Holocaust of Enslavement.

Though the majority of slave owners were white, other slave owners were Jews, Native American, and Blacks. If we’re going to have an honest conversation about racism then we need to talk about everything. I know that you as an individual didn’t own slaves. Don’t tell me just because you have “black friends” or you like people of all colors but you don’t approve of interracial marriages doesn’t mean you’re not racist. I want you to understand that it’s your attitude- how you treat and view me and others who look like me-that’s what the issue is here. Slavery left a legacy of racism and that’s what we need to deal with.

I also want people to understand that even though I am a black person, I am also an individual. There are specific things that forever bond me to all black people, but we are not all the same. We don’t all look alike- sorry to disappoint you. We all have our own unique personalities, we don’t dress the same and we don’t all listen to the same music genre-sorry to disappoint you again! We all talk differently, and we come from different regions of the world. We’re Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and atheist. We are independents, democrats, and republicans. Yes we do belong to a specific group but just like you, each of us are our own person.

Martin Luther King Jr’s dream wasn’t just about equality for all races; it was also about freedom or religion. We are blessed to live in a country where we are free to worship as we choose. And you’re also free not to worship if you choose. It bothers me when someone says “We’re a Christian nation,” because I feel left out as though I don’t belong, and then there are people who say that the founders were Christian, and then there are those who say they weren’t. Which one is it? Maybe it was both? Regardless what you believe, all people should be free to practice or not practice their faith here without bigotry of any kind. Extremism of any type whether it’s Christian, Muslim, etc. doesn’t have any regard for freedom and is detrimental.

Antisemitism is still running high in this country and around the globe. There are still Holocaust deniers in high abode. It’s hardly talked about in the news and when an anti-Semitic, racist, shooter attacked the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and killed a guard (who was African-American), not a lot of people said anything about it! This past summer the term Islamophobia was brought into the public discussion and incidents of hate crimes against mosques around the country. We also have this continuous anger against atheists by religious people and vice-versa. Why are people angry because someone doesn’t believe in G-D or they are angry about someone who does believe in G-D? I’m not sure if Dr. King didn’t talked about these two issues in his speeches, but I believe that they apply-women’s rights and gay rights.

It’s 2011 and though we have come far in women’s rights; there are still walls that need to be knocked down. Women still don’t get equal pay for equal work. We still face discrimination in society-from how we dress to how we are supposed to act in the business and political world. In the long history of the Supreme Court, there have been only a total of four women on the bench. Things are slowly changing. Last month marked the overturn of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and President Obama signed it into law. This is a great victory for the GLBT community. But even with this accomplishment, the GLBT community faces discrimination. From bullying to marriage there are many issues that need to be addressed.

Lastly, let’s look at Black-Jewish relations. Martin Luther King marched alongside Rabbis and Jews participated greatly in the civil rights movement-they participated more than non-Jewish whites did-so why the breakdown in relations?
Well the long and short of it is that a lot of blacks became aware that even though the Jews were a minority group, they were treated better than the blacks due to them having white privilege, so the relations broke down and became tense to this day.
As a Jew of Color-an African-Caribbean-American-Jewish woman to be exact-I can help build bridges between these communities. Both have a lot in common which each other and they must take steps to come together.

It’s 2011 and a lot of things have changed since Dr. King’s day, but we’re not at the promise land yet. We still have a ways to go. It will take hard work and blood, sweat and tears but we’ll arrive there. Until everyone no matter their status, ethnicity, religion or lack thereof, sex, and sexual orientation is treated based on their character we must not stop. There are those who want to accept the status quo. They want to stay in a state of denial, but I won’t. We must keep fighting until we arrive at the promise land.

“I will get there somehow
Cross that river
Nothing’s stoppin’ me now
I will get through the night
And make it through to the other side
Get there Get there Get there”
-Boyz II Men

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. From his I See the Promised Land / I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Speech that he gave at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968. This was the last public appearance before his assassination the next day.

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3 thoughts on “We Will Get There: Reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy

  1. eLPy says:

    Well said! Your conviction and passion are tangible in what you’ve written and shared here.

    You’re absolutely right that racism is still present. it seems like people have chosen the out of sight out of mind POV. And that’s just not so.

    Also, we do need to acknowledge the hard and full truth of slavery. Our pasts are the foundation that built us, threads in our fabric, the fabric we wear to comfort and represent us. I am a white female and for all I know some of my great-great ancestors may have been slave owners or in favor of slavery or against integration. While I myself am not racist this is not cause to deny, reject, or attempt to change the past. Just because I don’t believe slavery was ever right doesn’t mean that I think we should tuck it away into historical journals and pretend it never happened. Slavery was the foundation for Blacks in this country; without saying anymore that should say enough. Abuse breeds abuse and hurt and hatred spread like cancer. If it hurts people, makes them feel uncomfortable to talk about the sins of our fathers, then I can only imagine how it hurts the people to whom these sins were visited upon. If your father is an alcoholic, his addiction affects you on many levels. If your mother suffered from schizophrenia, her illness runs in your blood. If one people chose themselves to reign over and abuse another people, isn’t it ironic how biased today’s people are? If one group is enslaved and used by another, then don’t they have to rebuild from where they were torn down instead of building from the ground up, from scratch like so many pride themselves?

    Thank you for sharing this with us all. Your points here are lessons in truth and revelations in life. One black president after so many old white men is a step in the right direction but the scales are still greatly imbalanced. And to throw our hands up as though we’re cured is to deny that he caught hell and still does because of his ethnicity at the same time that it is to deny that there have never been any women presidents, never mind a gay man or woman (to our knowledge) holding down the fort. Religions across the board have tortured and/or stepped on one or more people throughout the centuries; no one creed or person is the say all, end all. Like you said, I am a white female but those are only two of the things that I am.

    Cheers to you! You remind me of a case my boyfriend brought to my attention, that of Kendrick Johnson, which happened last year. He was found dead, upside-down in a rolled up gym mat in his high school the next day. The local authorities called it accidental, said he fell in trying to retrieve his gym shoe and got stuck then suffocated. Come to find out, after a second autopsy ordered by his parents, he had died of blunt force trauma and this pathologist ruled it to be a case of homicide. Digging deeper into the story you’ll discover that he had beef with a boy at school who also had an older brother. When these boys were contacted by authorities immediately their father directed them to their attorney who initially would not allow for the boys to be spoken to directly. As it turned out the boys’ father is an FBI agent. Oh, did I mention that some of the school’s video surveillance inside the gym where he died was mysteriously tampered with, footage missing and other footage of the side of gym where crime occurred is just somehow more blurry than all others? I digress…

    But on a positive note, Talisha thank you. MLK Jr. achieved what many believed to be impossible and he made today what it is for you and I. We can talk to each other without fear of retaliation. We are more equal today than ever before, and while we often abuse this, we have him to thank. The world would be a much less forgiving and compassionate place without this man.

    Take care,
    eLPy

    Like

    • Talisha Harrison says:

      Thank you for the comment! I agree if we forget the past then we have no hope for the future. I love reading about history-the good, the bad, the ugly, and the horrible because it’s important to know and understand everything that has happened in the past.
      Slavery was an integral part of this country’s as well as many other countries’ history and it should not be forgotten.
      I’ve read about the Kendrick Johnson case and I hope that justice will be served. I haven’t heard anything new about the case I hope that the murderers will be found and brought to justice. They can’t keep the truth from coming out and it will come out.

      Like

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