a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

MLK Day 2017

Posted on: January 14, 2017

1-19-martin-luther-king-ftrThere’s a lot of (completely valid) talk going on about this week’s black-ish episode regarding drumpf and black folks’ response. Anthony Anderson’s monologue was powerful and, unlike everything else this week, it didn’t bring immediate tears to my eyes. Instead I felt my mother come through my body and out of my mouth and I said things like “humph, mmm, uh-huh.” He spoke the truth that Black Americans have felt since the election results came in and how we’ve felt on a daily basis since forever in the United States. But it was Laurence Fishborne as Pop, talking to Junior about MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech” that spoke most to me. And as we approach the Women’s March on Washington, King’s speech, also given during a march on Washington reminds me; I really hate Martin Luther King Day.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Dr. Martin Luther King was a marvel. He was a man who inspired a movement of people to fight for the civil rights that were owed to them as citizens of this country. Though he wasn’t the first. There were dozens of men and women who fought next to him who were left out of our history books. More than that, there are hundreds of thousands of men and women who came after him who continue the work even to this day. I don’t think that one day is enough to begin to cover the magnitude of King’s work and legacy. If we spent the whole of the day reciting all of King’s work we wouldn’t even come close to covering the vastness of his written words and speeches. He was a complex man who struggled in the fight for freedom, in his life, in his marriage. He was a son, a husband, a father. He was more than one speech and yet we are comfortable whittling this great man down into a day. For most MLK Day is simply a day off work, for others it’s a day of service, and still for others it’s a day to pat ourselves on the back for the accomplishments of a couple dozen Jews a generation ago. What happens the other 364 days of the Year?

As Jews we puff ourselves up with pride noting the Jewish folks who “marched at Selma” with King. But Selma was one march, one day, one summer 60 years ago. Why are we so fond of clinging to this image of King with Heschel with such passion and not as passionate about marching with black and brown folks today? Why are we so quick to cite the Civil Rights Movement but not quick to talk about ways in which our Jewish communities perpetuate racism and pervasive images of Jews as white folks? Why do we look back and not forward?

Since the election over 1000 instances of racist violence has been reported. Swastikas spray painted on homes, on Jewish headstones in cemeteries and at Jewish institutions. Just last week dozens of JCCs received bomb threats. We live in a time where whiteness can no longer mask ones Jewishness, white skin does not equal freedom because to the rising numbers of blatantly racists skin color is irrelevant if you’re a Jew. And as Jews we have the responsibility of our tradition in tikkun olam to fight against oppression every day, not just on MLK Day. As Jews we have a responsibility to act in the way some did in the 1960s in our lives today, right now, this year, rather than continuing to hold up that space in time. It’s overwhelming and it seems like it’s too much, but we always say never again. Well, never is now.

The day after the inauguration over 300 marches will be taking place in the United States and aboard. These marches will make history and our grandchildren will learn about them in history books and tell our stories. It is my hope that like King, we continue to march when the cameras aren’t rolling, we continue to speak out for those who don’t have a voice when no one is listening, and that we continue to live as our authentic selves, demanding freedom and equality until our dying day.


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