Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, in Washington, D.C.   The keen-eyed among you may spot the flowering cherry trees just visible to the right (the photo was taken during a visit last spring).  Despite the change in season, I decided to go with this photo, as the trees do convey something of the monument’s huge scale.

Well, dear readers, here we are in cold, chilly east coast North America on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the U.S.’s national holiday to honor one of the very greatest of its citizens.  The day has put Janakay in a reflective, if not weepy mood.  What would Dr. King make of today’s America?  Would he see progress from the days of Jim Crow and legalized apartheid, or a steady diminishment of the civil and voting rights laws he and others fought so hard to enact?  Does a national decision to honor his greatness by a day of service outweigh its dismemberment of the fragile protections for its poorest citizens and its increasing celebration of material excess?  Can Dr. King’s teachings of tolerance and justice survive in the face of  increasingly ugly and divisive racial rhetoric?

I continually struggle in what I regard as very dark days indeed to answer my own questions; my answers vary depending on my level of hope.  Janakay’s mood was darkened by the fact that, on a day honoring a national hero who celebrated non-violence (and who died by an assassin’s bullet), a few miles away a huge “gun rights” rally is being conducted under the aegis of a group associated with a resurgent white supremacist movement.  I click away on the internet, searching for comfort, and happen upon clips from a speech given by Barack Obama honoring the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march at Selma, Alabama.  If only for this MLK Day, because in my own little way I want to honor a man who continued the struggle while knowing he’d never reach the Promised Land, I decided to reject despair and agree with Obama that the American experiment is not yet finished and that we still hold the power to remake our nation to align more closely with our highest ideals.

8 thoughts on “Martin Luther King Jr. Day

  1. A very thoughtful post Janakay, as usual. Sometimes when I am in a dark mood I think back on the 1970s when I was in elementary school. When I read about what was going on n U.S. history during that decade (plane hijackings, the gas crisis, ABSCAM, Watergate, Patty Hearst, the rise of the drug trade, etc.), it seems crazier than what has been imagined in lots of dystopic fiction. And yet, as a child, I didn’t feel terrorized or threatened. It was, you know, just normal. This helps sometimes to give me perspective on the now. We are now living through a crazy, unstable age and absolutely, democracy is an experiment and will ALWAYS be an ever changing, imperfect institution. But the pendulum will swing back.

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    1. One hopes, Ruthiella, about the swinging of the pendulum, one really does. And you make an excellent point regarding the 1970s — one can never discount the tendency to forget that past eras were also problematical (check out a sort of funny old Maxwell Anderson poem, “Discernible Today” to that effect: http://www.emule.com/2poetry/phorum/read.php?4,22469 ). And my goodness, gracious me — it’s not like the 19th century, with its civil war, gilded age and very own rigged presidential election (Tilden-Hayes,1876) was any model of rationality and brotherhood but yet — doesn’t today’s turmoil feel just the teensiest bit different? Maybe it’s the internet, and the speed and sophistication of fake news; or the changing demographics that’s inciting a type of mass hysteria in some at the prospect of a minority/majority country or — whatever! My own pet theory is that we’re now in phase II of a Civil War that never quite ended (remember — I grew up in a culture where one literally stood up when Dixie, “our” national anthem, was played at the football game) and which is now fought with gerrymandering and voter suppression rather than bullets. But you ARE right; there have been crazy and unstable times before and we’ve survived. If MLK could keep climbing to the mountaintop, knowing he’d never see the Promised Land, the least we can do is, as you say, maintain our perspective on the now.

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  2. Ladies. I’m an immigrant. I can’t add to your truly American experience, and the understanding you have. But I’m too opinionated, :), and in your lovely company I feel free and safe to express myself, and I know that my opinion will be heard and considered, even if it’s clumsy, ignorant, or opposite to what you hold as truth. At anytime feel free to correct or broaden my biased vision.

    I want to say a big yes to the internet theory, and the mass hysteria. I also need to say that it’s hard for anyone to praise or rest in Americas many achievements, in the midst of the new faces of the same ugly problems, the pain and the madness.

    But I choose hope. We have the last word on what’s the world we inhabit like. There can be 1000 injustices for every 1 small kind deed, and I can choose to look at that kind deed, and I can choose to define who we are by the good deed. It tells me that it can be done, it can be repeated, it can be what we live and die for.

    Houston is the most ethnically and religiously diverse city in the whole United States. We surpass New York. I tell you I live a promising reality, but a scary one too. The challenges our youth faces are of enormous proportions. Yet we are proof that we all fit in here. It wasn’t long ago when Harvey hit, that we all saw in awe, a city come together in the most indescribable way. I don’t want to wish us any more pain or calamity. But I believe that our problem is the relative comfort that we’ve enjoyed for a few years. We are not overcome by a general calamity, big enough to unite us. We are too distracted, and still too comfortable, and thus, we fight and torture each other.

    I was talking to some young people last week, telling them that beyond the pro or against guns, there’s our collective pain for our inability to stop those shooters who are also broken, and we don’t know well how or what to do to help them not do what they do. We are too scared to denounce those around us who we suspect may blow up any minute. We live busy lives, and we only recognize the shooters as capable of shooting, after the fact. I also told them that we all should hold our politicians, ALL OF THEM, please, more accountable.

    And it’s impossible to get anywhere if we, citizens, have so much rage that we are fighting each other. That’s making it easier for those in power to continue doing nothing. Compromise is the value we ought to teach and learn. At another class, We were also talking about abortion, and I told them that, abortion or not abortion, the woman is the one not heard, not respected, not considered. Neither choice is easy for the women. Both choices can be defended, and still leave women mistreated and abandoned. What’s that they believe in, or live for?, that’s what should determine what they stand for in this issue, and others.

    However, living in the same space but very different realities, here in Houston, it’s sad and very scary. Our harmony, -as that of urban places with high diversity-, is very precarious. And the poverty and violence that’s creeping on us, are our worst threat. The hopeful thing is that here, the different groups happen within all the different races and ethnicities, so we are, if we observe a bit, less prone to attach certain maladies to certain groups, though the racial and illegal talk is still there, since our perception of certain behaviors happens in more numbers to certain groups, and that taints our experiences in life. The ratios, and certain groups, give a bad name to the whole. Houston is not fair, -which city is?-, but there’s a lot of fluidity among socio-economic groups, and a lot of getting along unseen anywhere else. I keep telling my girls and their friends, look, observe, Houston’s people are its greatest assert. You don’t even know how special you are because this is your normal. But it’s not done like this anywhere else. We are living proof of something, ha ha ha, – I don’t know what-. The lack of those who have lived past injustices, such as you two, is our biggest problem. When most of a group is made up of new comers (to the place, culture, etc), and when most of the new comers live difficult and precarious lives, there’s a rapid deterioration, and we, in 25 years, are seeing this happen. People are leaving, they are tired, and feel threatened and life is hardening for all.

    Something I don’t like it’s the worldview that’s forge in the media these days. I’ve noticed how it depresses me and infuriates me. When I sub, with the students and staff, I always find hope, good things, wonderful moments that give me hope in humanity. When I look at media, etc., I end up aggravated, even disliking my friends/neighbors/brethren.

    Anyway, 🙂 I’m preaching to the choir. I know that, no matter how different we understand life, any of us could get somewhere if we had to, because we love and respect each other. And that can be chosen, to love the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Silvia! Thanks for your thoughtful and very eloquent comment. Your belief that we can shape the world we inhabit are, to me, precisely what got Dr. King to the top of that mountain top! I also think your attitude is very similar to that of Barrack Obama’s in his Selma remarks: pragmatic and optmistic, acknowledging the problems but confident that we can do better.
      I had forgotten what a very diverse city Houston is! As you say, the most diverse in the country, which is saying a lot. I think it’s changed a great deal since my last visit, many, many years ago.
      I do disagree with one point in your comment: I think that new comers and immigrants to a country frequently see its virtues and flaws far more clearly than those who grew up there, who just as frequently fail to notice both!

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      1. Oh, thanks. You are too kind. I love this country. My girls are first generation. I like to see good in our youth. They’re very critized and we need to build them up. They are the future.

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