Thursday, April 4, 2013

extremism for the extension of justice

"If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say...I'd like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity." -Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968)

Today marks the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. Forty five years ago, one of the most well known crusaders for social justice and human dignity was murdered. At the age of 39. 

As every American 2nd grader can tell you, King had a dream. 
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"
Sometimes it feels like his dream, articulated 50 years ago this August, died with him. 

I came across a wonderful BuzzFeed piece about MLK today: 17 Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes You Never Hear. As I read through these quotes, I couldn't help feeling sorrowful. Sorrowful not only in the "on this day in history" something truly horrendous happened, but more profoundly.

It was a more profound feeling of hopelessness as I realized that Dr. King's words from the 1960s still ring true today. His words about economic injustices, war, violence and systemic racism are applicable to the social injustices that still plague our society 45 years after his death. 

King's words about the injustices of the Vietnam War could easily be applied to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. King's words about the dangers of a materialist culture are even more relevant in today's consumerist world. 

And Dr. King's words about white moderates, while obviously still applicable to the issues of racism can also apply to LGBTQ oppression by changing the word "white" to "straight." To be a moderate is to, in my mind, be okay with the status quo, often ignorant of the oppressions of others. We are conditioned to be this way in a highly individualistic and materialistic society -- a society more self-centered than it was in King's time thanks to a conservative resurgence that values individual wealth over social justice. "If an issue doesn't affect me, why should I care?" is a pervasive and disturbing social apathy that allows oppressions to continue and even worsen. 

Something needs to change in a meaningful way. 

Case in point: Last week, as the SCOTUS heard oral arguments regarding Prop 8 and DOMA, HRC encouraged social media users to change their profile pictures to a pink equal sign on a red background to show support for marriage equality. While on one hand, I was heartened to see all the red on my Facebook newsfeed, it is not enough. It is not enough to sit safely behind a computer screen and change your profile picture. The solidarity, while appreciated, is no substitute for actual action that challenges systems of oppression.

Advocacy need not necessarily mean marching on Washington, staging sit-in or organizing boycotts. It can mean small daily actions, like using more inclusive language and teaching others to do the same - not just saying that people should use different language, but opening dialogue on why that language matters. Without real-world action behind the social media clicktivism, that pink and red equal sign means nothing.

To use King's ever relevant words, we must be "extremists for the extension of justice" and "disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood." Whether fighting LGBT oppression, male privilege, racism, sexism and so on, we cannot be moderate. We cannot be meek clicktivists sheltered by a screen. 

We have to actually take action. As an ally to LGBTQ communities, I feel it my responsibility to keep learning and keep educating others, to use more inclusive language, to provide open arms for my queer siblings and embrace them not in spite of differences but in celebration of our common humanity.

Sometime, MLK's dream may appear to have died among society as a whole. But when I see the work being done by the allies, advocates and activists in my own immediate circles, I find some hope. We extremists for social justice must press on.

We should imagine a world without hate and social injustice. But we should not only imagine, we should constantly strive to attain it. "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one."

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