Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Bambification of Dr. King

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice....Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr., from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
***

Death's shadow stretches long on a mid-day January beach.


Energy's no longer cheap. Last year's abundance has become scarce, and  the sun is too oblique to fulfill last summer's promises.

Purple sandpipers picked at the remnants of horseshoe crabs that failed to return with the last tide; several vultures hunkered down at the edge of the bay.Glistening glass orbs marked the end of comb jellies just out of reach of the receding waters.

We stumbled upon a hole dug by a gull, its presence betrayed by its footprints. Next to the whole lay a small, live clam. I tossed it back into the bay, figuring the gull had given up.

A few steps later, I found another displaced clam, again sitting next to a hole dug out by a gull, and again I tossed the critter back in the sea.

Then a third.

Winter beaches kill the ignorant. I looked around. Several similar holes, each with a clam next to it.

Gulls know how to open clams--I've watched them do it. They pick them up, hover over the jetty, then drop them, following them as they fall, ready to eat the freshly exposed flesh as the shell shatters on the rocks.

I suspect the clams had been left to die--their gaping shells would have saved a gull a few trips over the jetty.

I left the remaining clams on the beach.

One creature's death is another creature's grace. Powerful stories emerge daily from the beach--stories of grace and power and even love. None of them, however, are "nice."

Bambi never lived in the real world.


***

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was loving, and kind, and powerful. His words still resonate, should you choose to hear them.

Do not confuse non-violence with passivity.
Do not confuse kindness with niceness.

During school announcements yesterday, our students were told that Dr. King pushed "cooperation." Rania Jones, a 3rd grade winner of the Milwaukee Public Schools' "People Must Work Together" King contest wrote "That's what we must do today - demonstrate cooperation." This is the Dr. King lite version of a complex story. This is the version that gives so many of us the day off on Monday.

"Love" is a complex word, and one not easily used in public settings. "Cooperation" is much safer, more sanitary.

And it's the wrong message.
***

My Dad joined  the 1963 March on Washington, dressed in full uniform, a proud US Marine officer. He flew A4 Phantom Skyhawks off carriers, in love with a country that let poor first generation children fly.

My dad was pulled to the front of the parade, or so the story goes. If you see a full-dressed USMC officer in photos from the parade, it may well be Bill Doyle. Dr. King later went on to oppose the Viet Nam War as unjust, and my father, a die-hard leatherneck, resigned his commission for the same reason.

I grew up in an Irish Catholic home, but Dr. King held as much influence as the Pope, maybe more, years before he was assassinated. My Dad loved the man, not the cartoon he has become.

Read "Letter From a Birmingham Jail."
Take a walk outside and watch the grace and agony of life around us.

Yes, it's complicated. Life is complex,

Bambi's just the celluloid illusion of a corporation that owns a good chunk of the airwaves today, including ABC. I'm betting you won't hear much about King's letter from jail Monday.

You want to learn about Dr. King? Go read his words, listen to his speeches, learn everything you can about him. But don't "cooperate" with those who would steal his image without his words, the Glenn Becks, the Arne Duncans, the innumerable talking heads that will piously bow on Monday.

Take a walk on Monday, a walk outside, away from noise. Carry a copy of King's letter and read it under the January sunlight.

Share it. Live it.
Don't let the dream die.




The photo of Dr. King (D.C., August, 1963)  is from the National Archives and is the public domain.
The crab claw was taken by Leslie.

1 comment:

John T. Spencer said...

Joel asks me, "Do you get tomorrow off?"

"Yep. It's for Martin Luther King Jr. Day."

"What will we do for it?"

"What do you mean?"

"For the holiday."

"Nothing, I guess."

"Oh."

"Do you know why it's a holiday?"

"Because he was shot. But why did they shoot him?"

"He wanted equality. He wanted rights for African-Americans."

"If he was alive right now, would he fight Sheriff Joe?"

"I think he would."

"Was the man who killed him crazy?"

"Probably."

"The same kind of crazy as the man in Tucson?"

"I think so."

"He killed a nine-year old girl. Can you believe that?"

"I know it was horrible."

"The police men used dogs and hard hoses on Martin Luther King and on his friends."

"Some of the kids were attacked."

"Why were those guys still the police?"

"Seems kind of crazy, huh?"

"Is it the same kind of crazy as the man in Tucson and Sheriff Joe?"

"Maybe it is."