“Don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have the compassion and understanding for those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight; we are always on the threshold of a new dawn.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr., “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” in Strength to Love (1958)
I am a white man who grew up in the 1960’s in Birmingham, AL. I was not taught to hate African Americans, but the atmosphere of my childhood taught me, whether anyone intended it or not, to be afraid of difference. I was given messages over and over again that African Americans and people who looked like me were different. Most of the messages were unconscious, but they landed in my soul, nevertheless.
One of those sets of messages that I received, without realizing it, was that Martin Luther King, Jr. was dangerous, a communist, and immoral. Imagine my shock, surprise, and sense of betrayal when, in college, while watching documentaries and reading his works I came to understand otherwise.
I am convinced that hatred is born of fear, but I also know that fear does not always produce hatred. Sometimes, fear, in league with curiosity, leads to love and compassion and awe. In my own journey, everything I saw of King made me want to know more. Everything I read drove me to listen more intently to his message. I still have so much to learn from him, from his words, from his example. Do I think he was perfect? No, thank goodness. Since I am not perfect, his imperfect life delivering messages of compassion, non-violence, and diligence to justice make it possible for me to believe that I can stand for and live out these things, too.
Hatred is a hard thing to face. It is a threshold, and when we stand before it, it issues us a challenge. Will I allow this present example of hatred to become the cause for my next hateful thought and act? Or, will I see that in this very dark moment, a new dawn can happen?
I can choose to refuse hatred and practice love. Martin Luther King, Jr. teaches me this. This weekend of his is a sacred time for me, a threshold of sacred time.
Bob, I was told the same things about MLK, and even worse. I was told he was a Communist who wanted to ruin our country by agitating “the Negroes”. Amazing that I still hear these same things about Obama today. I understand that someone might not agree with all of Obama’s policies, but to say he is “trying to destroy our country” is something entirely different.
I’ve watched Obama since his race against Bobby Rush here in Chicago. I wouldn’t say he was trying to destroy the country, but I thought him fool enough to make a botch of things which I think it’s fair to say he’s down. I also thought he would be quick to resort to violence and the “Terror Tuesday” sessions and drone war policies evidence of that. I expect that violence to escalate too and he manages to back himself into ever narrower choices. As for Communists and the Prez, he crossed paths with many… the Lumpkin family the most obvious, and we “reds” did unabashedly “agitate Negros”. I have a vivid recollection of Comrade Albert Weisbord in his apartment in the Amalgamated Clothing Workings housing at 47th and Lake Park in Hyde Park transform from an enfeebled old man into his old Soap Box orator with cries to “arm the Negros!” That was our old Red world which Obama knows well.
While my opinion of the President’s character differs from yours, there have been things about his decision making process that have disappointed me as well. It is interesting to read your thoughts.
My initial reaction is that it would be impossible to serve a constituency in Chicago and not “cross paths” with prominent individuals who identify as communist (among many other “isms”). And isn’t that what we want – representatives who are willing to open a dialog with people of all political leanings and ideologies?
I believe that the root of society’s greatest problems at present is the widespread tendency to dismiss and shut out the voices of those with whom we – on the surface – may disagree. Equally detrimental is the impulse to use the artificial Us vs. Them dichotomy to manipulate and inflame people.
This is basic to what Bob is addressing in this post, I think. When we resolve within ourselves to resist the very natural human inclination to judge and condemn, and make a concerted effort instead to listen and understand, we gain so much in the way of perception. We deepen, rather than harden, our humanity. I need not agree with you in order to get where you are coming from, and learn from your perspective. And who among us in this world does not benefit from a more compassionate society, a broadened worldview, and more concerned leaders?
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Bill.