The Radical King: Is The Absence of Tension the Presence of Justice?
The observation of the King Holiday is our annual engagement in romanticizing the life of a 20th century prophet and martyr that is troublesome, at best, sacrilege, at worse. How have turned a day of observation into a day celebration is puzzling to me. Exactly what does black America have to celebrate? The re-election of Barack Obama (which we will discuss next week)??? How do we celebrate the decline of a people and the decline of a national community in the 45 years since King was so brutally taken from us. I can’t help but wonder what King would say if he came back today. He most certainly would beam with pride at the Obama phenomenon, and some of the progress made with the achievement of the election of black governors, black state attorney generals, black district attorneys, black mayors, black county supervisors, black billionaires and the opulent decadence that the black elite have replicated in mimicking the social practices of a depreciating dominant culture. Some blacks have “made it” on the shoulders of the struggle. Even more have fallen behind, as the wage and wealth in the black community is even wider than the wage and wealth gaps between blacks and whites.
I can’t help but think at what Martin Luther King, Jr. say about a parade in his honor when education is failing, high schools are being closed, joblessness exceeds 40% and economic subjugation (wage, price and contract discrimination) have been “good faithin’” us for more than three decades? The systems that King left to call these things out have broken down. The churches are in conflict or the community’s advocacy vehicles are in total disarray. But we can put on a parade. Where’s the justice in that? There is none. Just the absence of tension.
I said I wasn’t gonna rant on the parade this year (like I do every year). I guess people gotta do what they gotta do. But if King came back, it would probably would resemble that Boondocks episode where King came back after 40 years and was shocked at what he saw. He probably would end up using the N-word (and not in no nice way) like he did in the cartoon (that was some funny stuff—but it wasn’t, because that is the shock of the stark reality). What we see today is just not what people marched and died for. It’s an anti-real, almost surreal reality of societal injustice entrenched in an absence of social consciousness or an acknowledged abject dissolution that people are tired of challenging. We challenge the simple stuff that doesn’t make a difference and lay dormant on the systemic stuff that crashes people’s (and community’s) lives.
Dr. King once said, “True peace is more than the absence of tension. It’s the presence of justice.” Somebody tell me where do we see the presence of justice in our communities. In most places, there isn’t even an absence of tension. It’s more of a tense and painful silence so not to disrupt an uneasy comfort many now have escaped to.
Stealing away has taken on a new meaning. It’s now easier to escape our community’s reality than to change it. Success means, you’ve successfully escaped the conditions of compromise and degradation, as long as you hold silent about it. Can’t let too many people know that success is not only possible, but reachable—if you’re willing to fight for it.
Instead, what we see is people trying to escape the stark realities of the socio-economic depression, the most lasting vestige of slavery and a perpetuation of a caste system construction (be it race or class). Protest has become a light weight engagement and the communities no longer pursue social and economic justice as the baseline for social and political equality. America currently has the most “unequal” society since slavery ended, and yet there is no sustained (or sustainable) drive to eradicate the inequities in an organized fashion. Coalition advocacy works for policy and election change but does little when segments of the coalition aren’t similarly situated. There is nobody similarly situated with black people in America, who is being confronted on every front. Latinos come close on the social reality, but not the economic reality as they outperform the black community in media ownership, bank ownership and now home ownership. And they are at the top of the list on the policy agenda for immigration reform.
What black people should be using as a day of critical observation and self-examination, we use to parade and party. And you wonder why the world thinks black people are crazy for remaining in the conditions of socio-economic compromise for as long as they have.
I’m sure Dr. King, the real Dr. King, the Radical Dr. King, would think so too. Not only can the masses not escape our community’s reality, many have become complicit in it because we seek the absence of tension rather than the presence of justice. Thus, we never have the “true peace” Dr. King fought, bled and died for. Most people today can’t even tell you what he died for—much less, what he stood for. The observance of King Day must take on a greater meaning.
There has to be a greater fight out there for social and economic equality. Guess I’ll have to wait for the parade goes by to see it. NOT.