It’s Martin Luther King Jr. day in Memphis and I can’t think of anything funny to say.
And it’s not for a lack of trying.
For the first time in the seven years I’ve lived here, I have this day off. Free to think about what it all really means.
And I’m not sure I like that.
I am finding it difficult to fathom that 39 years ago in this city a man was killed for believing that people could be treated with equality.
I suppose it wasn’t the believing, but the acting on those beliefs that singled him out as a target. I imagine that many people believed what King did, but fewer said anything about it, and fewer still took action.
What action are we taking today?1
I wouldn’t presume to talk about the legacy of the civil rights movement. I’m too young, too white, and too reluctant to deal with Jesse Jackson.2
But it’s hard to avoid the legacy of Memphis.
I live in a profoundly polarized city, where realtors make a good living from the constant circulation of Americans of both African and European flavors, chasing each other from suburb to suburb.
Back when I first moved here, I thought I would be part of the solution. Most days I’m happy if I can avoid being part of the problem.
I do, however, believe there is a solution, and it lies not with parties, and bumper stickers, and the smug superiority of partisan politics, but along a path of small choices, courageously made every day.
The choice to give the benefit of the doubt to another, the choice to speak with respect, the choice to look someone in the eye.
Real change doesn’t come from a soapbox, it comes from the heart.
- Notice how much more comfortable it is to hid in a large comforting “we” than to put forward the lonely “I”. ↩
- Nothing against him personally, because I don’t know him personally. But it wasn’t (in my humble opinion) politics and press conferences that got our society as far as it has come in the field of social justice, but rather the courage of individuals. There are a long list of adjectives I would use to describe the actions of Rev. Jackson as far as I have seen them, and courageous doesn’t make the top twenty. ↩