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How to Honor King

The Other Side of the Tracks: A Socially Speaking commentary

August 30, 2011

By Perry Redd

The latest rift in America isn’t the proper amount to cut from the nation’s budget, nor is it the Tea Party’s attack on anyone who isn’t them.  The latest rift is between the very people who need not be rifting: the Black community in America.  The recent cancelled dedication of the newly minted memorial to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the national mall has Black activists, intellectuals and organizers at odds.

Among that crowd, arguments have surfaced over ideological, physical and spiritual elements of the memorial.  It’s been amazingly sad to hear the attacks on those who disagree.  I have found that merit exists in each and every criticism of the memorial.  Black and white commentators alike weighed in on the memorial. From cost, to artist; from location to size; from appropriateness to benefactors, there’s something to raise holy hell about.

The original date of dedication was cancelled due to east coast hurricane Irene that hit the day prior.  I don’t even want to imagine how Pat Robertson interprets that one!  There were many who elected to make known that they would not attend the dedication.  Then, there were many who chose to be there on that date.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you are), it didn’t happen.

Days prior I took my mother to see and experience the memorial.  She flew up from middle Tennessee and expressed her objections to the memorial on religious grounds; the whole thing about “worshipping graven idols” and such.  I couldn’t discount her concerns, but I did disagree and pointed out that most people won’t worship anything, but hold in high esteem the legacy of Dr. King’s work, life and vision.  The memorial would be one of the places where it rests.

Criticisms I came across this week ranged from Dr. Cornel West’s commentary in the New York Times that we are substituting substance for symbolism and that we need a revolution, not a memorial; to Dr. Boyce Watkins’ insistence that he wouldn’t attend the dedication because of the reality of ignoring the big picture of King’s mission. Some, like activist Medea Benjamin of Code Pink criticized the hypocrisy of corporate interests who exploit the essence of memorializing King.  Even the Washington Post’s Philip Kenicott played Limbaugh in his dislike of the location as well as the premise.  Of course, his criticisms were pure crap.  But I found elements of substance in all of them.

As with anything in America, you will never make everyone happy with everything you do.  I have my criticisms of the memorial too.  Some of mine rests within the greater voices who have made theirs known in the blogosphere.  What I do know is that, like the King holiday, parity means having the same status as our white counterparts is necessary in America.  How many of us believe that there shouldn’t be a national holiday dedicated to an African-American?  If not King, then who? Tubman, Douglass, Turner?  It’s more than about King, it’s about the collective struggle among Blacks; and here we find ourselves striving against each other.

Another thing I know is that whites don’t care that we strive among ourselves.  The blessing is that there are some whites who are allies and see the big picture: honoring the struggle that continues today.  I believe that’s where we all are.  Color of the granite, land mass and location, sponsorship and artistry all have a place in the conversation.  The good thing is that there are a lot of us are involved; not enough of us, of course, but more than would’ve been the case 40 years ago.  Because of the advances in technology, we are a more informed society.  It’s easier to access the information that makes us knowledgeable on the issues that effect us.  But there’s not enough technology to get us more engaged.  Technology cannot grow courage…courage to act

I believe that when we’re not acting, then we’re part of the problem.  Opponents of progress bank on the non-actors.  We make their jobs easier
when we fight among ourselves.  We know that corporations exploit any and every opportunity they can—and those who are around it.  I pronounce us guilty when we allow them.  I was accused this week of “drinking the Kool-Aid” of not building a revolution and building a memorial.  I tried to place my feelings aside and not be drawn into the striving caused by those wearing rose-colored glasses.  Some don’t believe the memorial has its place.  I disagree.

Whites honor their heroes and I think we should honor ours.  If they help, then fine, but we cannot allow whites to co-opt our choices.  They didn’t respect Martin Luther King then, and I am suspicious when they want to now.  It is for us to take the lead.  No, we don’t have the billions of Wal-Mart, Exxon or Phizer, but we do have the spending power that corporations respect—and need.  If each of us would have given $7, we could’ve built the memorial ourselves.  That would’ve honored Dr. King.  That would’ve honored ourselves.  Instead, we enriched Toyota, BF Goodrich, MTV, Wal-Mart, Apple, Microsoft, the NBA, Gucci and Nike.  That’s our dilemma in capitalist society.

What I know is that revolutions begin from within.  We must start with ourselves.  Whites don’t care until they are made uncomfortable.  Black people don’t mind “getting along”, but the conditions cannot be “go along” conditions.  All of us need to have a voice and have a hand in the actions to grow and revive this movement.  We honor our fallen warriors each time we gather, pray and reflect.  The King Memorial just happens to be a big one, it won’t be the last one…the revolution continues.  Let it continue without hating on a brother from a different mother.  That’s how we honor Dr. King…that’s how we honor ourselves.

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