I used to work at a bank. Like many other vocations in the United States, they observe the 10 federal holidays – Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for instance.
As a privileged white person, this was a lovely and random reprieve for me. A random day I was allowed to sleep in. It was lovely, and I was grateful. I know who Martin Luther King Jr. is, of course. Anyone who attended school in the United States has surely heard the first few lines of the “I have a dream…” speech.
For me, that’s about where it ended. He was a man who did great things, through his words. People loved him, he helped activate change, and he died in pain. He was just a piece of history.
It is so very easy to forget people who didn’t affect you greatly. Rather, it is easy to take for granted the people who made a difference in other people’s lives… people who aren’t you or your family. What a regrettable waste. A great man such as MLK jr. deserves more than an excuse to not go to work.
So, today I acknowledge your greatness, Martin. I choose to also acknowledge my own privilege.
I have been, in the past, guilty of white woman feminism. I have been guilty of screaming “equality for all”, while overlooking the struggles people of color still go through. They aren’t alone in their struggles, of course. Not conforming to any one of the rich white Christian straight male standards can gain a person inequality in America.
To be clear, I am not saying that these standards are enforced by or encouraged by rich white Christian straight males. I am saying that those seem to be the preferred ideals by the general public, and that those who are not every single one of those labels are at a slight disadvantage. They are not at disadvantage because they aren’t as qualified or capable as the rich white Christian straight males, but because rich white Christian straight males seem to get first pick at everything. It is “engrained” in people’s way of thinking to give them first choice. We are all guilty of it at some point in our lives; some more than others.
I have several privledges in life. I used to feel guilty for that, but I’ve come to acknowledge that my privledges are not my fault. The only way I can help disentigrate my privledges, is to use them for the benefit of others. I’m not very good at that so far –I can’t seem to hear opportunity until after its done knocking, like knocked, waited five minutes and left done. I’m working on it though.
Enough about me, though.
Dear Mr. King,
Thank you. Thank you for your bravery. What you accomplished in life went far beyond what you were able to see with your own eyes. I wish I could tell you your dreams have already come true, but that would be a lie. We still have a long way to travel. Even now, people who control this country are bigoted and hateful. Those of us who don’t approve haven’t exactly responded in a way you’d approve of either. We’ve all been hateful.
People never forgot what you said, though. We’ve remembered your encouragement to speak through action. We’ve remembered your encouragement to leave violence out of the equation. We aren’t always good at it, but we’ve tried. I see it in the protests over the last two years. There are those who derailed into violence, of course. But the non-violent outnumber the violent by far.
I cannot begin to imagine what your life was like. I do not claim to understand what it feels like to be discriminated against because of my race or color. I do know, however, what it feels like to wish better for your children. You knew the world wouldn’t change before your eyes, didn’t you? You just hoped your kids would have less of a struggle than you did. You hoped that they’d continue fighting as you had – continue hoping.
Well, sir, that message of hope has survived you. You left many things to the world, but your ideals and your message of hope are alive and thriving today. Many people come and go, but hope exists within us all.
I’m sorry I haven’t truly acknowledged you in the past. You were a great man. You are more than a name on the calendar. You are hope. You are a goal, which we all should strive to meet. I see that now.
So thank you. Thank you for standing up for what is right. Thank you for teaching me, and countless others. Thank you for showing us how to fight without raising fists. Thank you for your gift of hope.