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Est. April 5, 2002
April 12, 2018 - Issue 737

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MLK and the Worthy Fight

"On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death, the
national ceremonies honoring his memory - featuring
the sanctimonious and reflections on the days leading
up to Dr. King’s death - failed to see
the elephant had long taken center stage."

The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Who is this ______?

Everyone in the room, from my dissertation chair, department chair, and dissertation committee members, were about to rise from their seats. Everyone promptly sat back down. He’s the graduate administrator sent to this dissertation defense in the English department, and he’s looking straight at me. I, a middle-aged, 40-something Black woman, am segregated from the others in this conference room, by the glare of this middle-aged white man in suit and tie.

I look at him, of course. He’s waited until the end to ask this question, the one that now appears to remind everyone about that elephant in the corner of this room. The elephant seems to have been pushed to the center. It stands now on the table.

And the guy in the suit thinks he’s all knowing. Thinks he has an answer. Thinks he imagines someone he wouldn’t think to have lunch with - let alone dinner.

The name he’s calling out, ________, appears on the dedication page of my dissertation.

I shrug my shoulders, as if I didn’t quite hear the question. I’m challenging his audacity with a smile.

Who’s this person?

It looks to me as if his nose is slightly more elevated than before, but his gaze never leaves my face.

He wants to know, in other words, what does this name, I’ve taken upon myself to inserted into a narrative to be accredited at an institution as a legitimate document of worth - what does this name represent? Because it’s certainly not a name we’ve heard of! So what’s this name representing that we don’t value at this kind of institution?

But he doesn’t speak again. It’s dead quiet.

It’s the middle of the 1990s. In fact, 28 years have past since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on that balcony in Memphis. Twenty eight years.

I haven’t diverted my eyes.

He was my grandfather!

Period! After another moment of silence in which the elephant slowly retreats to the corner of the room, the chatter begins, and everyone in the room is in movement. And you, sir, are a representative of the gatekeepers against alternative ideas!

I’m remembering, as I gather up my papers. He was a janitor! A janitor! I would liked to shout. I look at the man and the others, talking among themselves. A janitor! Before he died of a final stroke in 1974. Five years after Dr. King, Jr. comes to stand with sanitation workers protesting the inhuman conditions they face as Black men and Black workers, hauling the garbage.

My grandfather wore the stripped overalls of janitors who hauled large trash cans over their shoulders, up and down back stairs of tenement apartments buildings on the South side of Chicago. They mowed the lawns in front of these buildings and shoveled the snow. Inside these buildings where many lived at discount rates or free in the basement flats with their families, they shoved coal into furnaces and mopped the basement floors of laundry rooms. They were painters and electricians and plumbers. And they did so most, like my grandfather, without an office, without a sign that said maintenance, without a name plate that spelled out their names.

My work in order, I finally rise from seat, smiling at the memory of my grandfather…

He was a janitor! And he was a man!

On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death, the national ceremonies honoring his memory - featuring the sanctimonious and reflections on the days leading up to Dr. King’s death - failed to see the elephant had long taken center stage.

Two men, sanitation workers, were forced to sleep in those filthy garbage trucks because they had no other place to sleep, to other place where other humans would honor even their money, if they had it then. Two men, two human being, were accidentally crushed to death! In America!

In America, 50 years later, we’re remembering Eric Garner, a father, not “rich” by America’s classification of humanity, on the ground, surrounded by police officers. Garner is struggling to breathe. I can’t breathe, he says, 11 times to the officer with a choke hold around his neck. But the officer doesn’t see a man. So he can’t hear Garner.

And when the officer is acquitted, as many of the officers in the past who have been acquitted, watch America’s gaze soon turn elsewhere. Unlike Dr. King when he was alive, America loses no sleep over the response to the loss of Black lives!

In the wake of the killing of 17 people, 14 students and 3 teachers, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, America is, once again, made to hear the rapid fire of gunshots from police officers, firing 22 rounds into the body of young Stephon Clark who is just reaching his car, parked outside his grandmother’s home. He has a cell phone, and the officers imagining a gun in Clark’s hand, commence firing. Eight bullets land in Clark’s back. The officers didn’t see a man. A human being.

The selling of guns and military-style weaponry goes on. America’s number one in the selling of weapons for mass destruction!

A day after the ceremonies, April 5th, I heard the mayor of El Paso, Texas talking about how his community feels relatively safe, so close to the Mexican border. We’re not having any problems. We don’t need the re-enforcement of either the military nor any additional walls. No, El Paso tries to help the Mexicans become “middle-class citizens.” That’s what it’s all about! Get the Mexican people, suffering from US intervention in their politics with the so-called “War on Drugs” and NAFTA - get them jobs, and then they will not want to come and - what - steal jobs from Americans. They want try to come over the wall and burglarize our homes and rape our women.

Get them hooked on the value of money and they won’t to just breathe! Make them think, middle class - not an end to a system that does not and cannot have the life of human beings as it’s central concern. It’s not being men! women! Humans! It’s about profits.

And that will never change as long as the only business of worth in any town in the US is the manufacturing of profits.

Does America really cares to know the likely pool of unarmed Black Americans to be shot dead by police? What about the next mother or child or college student to be deported back to Mexico or Haiti? Do Americans really care to know who they are?

Or is it a matter of obtaining a confession of unworthiness, so as to justify the legalization of cruelty? Injustice?

I can’t imagine Dr. King sitting around some table, surrounded by “admirers,” giving himself a congratulatory pat on the back! He’d be too busy fighting tyranny, in all it’s various guises of democracy.

My grandfather wouldn’t have wanted to sit at the lunch counter or dinner table with the administrator in his suit, trying to look down at him. My grandfather knew his worth. He could see the choke hold on the neck of the enablers. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.
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