Martin Luther King, Jr. and present realities

Last week the world celebrated and remembered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s contribution to humanity, democracy, justice, and equality, while at the same time trying to digest the words of our Governor and the acts of police brutality in certain parts of the United States.  I have been reflecting these past weeks on this reality as the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine organized its own commemoration of Dr. King, linking his work to that carried out by Cesar Chavez in the U.S.-Mexican border, and concluding that even though much has been achieved more still needs to be done.

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I struggled making sense of the achievements and balancing them with the words of our Governor but it all came together at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast Celebration organized by the Greater Bangor Area NAACP at the University of Maine.  There, a powerful and inspirational undergraduate student, Antonia Carroll, summarized what Dr. King’s legacy was all about.  In essence we need to continue climbing toward “the mountain top” and even though it gets tougher and tougher to climb as we get closer to the top, all we have as an option is to keep climbing without looking back.  As Antonia said that morning, we need to keep “stirring the pot.”

I spoke with Antonia after the event and she allowed me to share her poem with you. Here it is:

Still Stirring

Antonia Carroll

Dec. 2015

 

“So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a

great while to get it going again.” –Sojourner Truth, Equal Rights Convention, 1867

 

I.

The world mourns,

129 killed in Paris

The week before,

Controversy:

     Missouri University President resigns due to campus protests.

 

And the whole time I remembered this quote,

     “Things are stirring”

I could feel

something was moving.

Things are stirring

It’s time to start stirring

And keep stirring harder

 

And that momentum, those emotions, the tears, they were a driving force

To remember not to stop,

because now, a few weeks later, I’m not crying anymore.

I’m not crying anymore

and occasionally,

a small doubt creeps up and says

      well,

     maybe it’s not such a big deal

And I have to remind myself

That I’m not crying anymore

and that not having to cry about this every day,

that I can harbor this doubt,

     this is my privilege.

Because if things stop stirring,

those of us who are not directly involved will forget,

because time heals all wounds.
Except

for those of us who are wounded

every day

and suffer in silence

as the rest of us heal

and move on.

II.

 He messaged me at 1:04AM

     Hey

     What are you doing?

It was Halloween night.

It was also his Birthday.

We split up early on and by the time he texted me I was already home.

I had taken off my costume

and was about to go to bed.

It was a fun night.

 

He messaged me at 1:04AM

     Hey

     What are you doing?

he wrote,

     I can’t go to bed like this

      I’m back home

      after experiencing racism.

      It’s a long messed up story

      It’s really sensitive

 

III.

 I took a survey in three classes.

Question 1. Which movement is more important to you?

a)  Black Lives Matter:  2 students

b)  All Lives Matter :  47 students

Question 4. Do you think racism is a problem on this campus?

Yes: 12 students

No: 39 students

Question 5. Do you think racism is a problem in this country?

Yes: 36 students

No: 7 students

Not Sure: 9 students

Question 6. Have you ever had a serious conversation about racism while at UMaine?

Yes: 13 students

No: 40 students

Why do we have to keep stirring,

I ask myself.

Because this is the status quo,

I answer.

 

Because 39 students out of 52 students do not believe that racism is a problem on this campus.

Because 7 students out of 52 students can wake up in the morning, watch TV, go online, go to school, and say with confidence

“racism is not a problem in this country”

Because 40 students out of 53 students have never talked about racism at UMaine.

 

While my friend is traumatized in the middle of the night.

 

Why do we have to keep stirring?

     Because this is the status quo

          And the status quo must change

 

And because an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.

 

But when we start to stir

47 out of 52 students will tell us “All Lives Matter”

So, we will ask,

Then, why

Why, will 1 in 3 African American men be imprisoned? [1]

Why, is the poverty rate doubled for black people, for Native Americans, for Hispanic people? [2]

Why, is your cause of death twice as likely to be police violence if you are born black? [3]

 

We will ask them again,

Really?

          Are all lives really equal?

 

We have to keep stirring

Because our black classmates,

our Muslim teammates,

our transgender friends,

they are sitting on the bottom of the pot

and they’re burning.

 

IV.

Things are stirring in America

Turn on the television, you’ll see

Terrorism

Islamophobia

Police brutality

Things are stirring but it’s not all good,

The status quo is changing but it’s not all for the better,

31 US states close their doors to Syrian refugees – CNN [4]

            Hate Crimes Against Muslims in UK Nearly Triple After Paris Attacks – Washington Times [5]

                       

This is not the change we need

So we must keep stirring

We must keep stirring

Because

they kill us before they kill you”

            Yes, we have conveniently forgotten that

The number one victims of ISIS are Muslim

And the refugees are running from the same people we are

So why,

     In eight days 115 Muslim people were assaulted

    many of the victims say that no one came to their aid or even consoled them [6]

Why are we so afraid of victims?

 

When a radical white Christian man attacks a Planned Parenthood clinic

killing three and injuring nine [7]

how many states will close their doors to white Christian men?

how many news sources will say “this is a white Christian problem?”

Excuse me, I have a question

Why is terrorism a Muslim problem?

Why is police violence a problem with “black culture?”

What is our problem?

 

But it’s years later and the status quo hasn’t changed,

not yet,

we have to keep stirring and we can’t stop

because in 1999 Amadou Diallo was 22 years old – my age

and unarmed

when he was shot

on the doorstep of his apartment

                       41 times. [8]

and it kept happening

2010, Aiyana Stanley-Jones,

seven years old,

she was sleeping in her home

when she was shot

by the Detroit SWAT team

accompanied by a TV crew

for a reality show [9]

Is this

The punch-line for a joke?

Are black lives some kind of joke?

And this was before #blacklivesmatter

before anyone gave a shit

and I have to wonder

does anyone care now?

Because

Question 7. What are your concerns about the Black Lives Matter movement?

          e) I am tired of hearing about it.

Thirteen out of fifty-two students.

 

Things are moving now,

Things are stirring,

But we can’t stop, for so many reasons, we can’t stop

And those reasons have names

Most notoriously:

Trayvon Martin

Michael Brown

Laquan McDonald

The name seems to change every day

When I started writing this,

his name was Darius Smith, 18 [10]

When I finished,

his name was Mario Woods, 26 [11]

What will the name be today?

 

V.

A friend of mine from rural Maine told me that

he’d never met an Asian person until his senior year of high school.

Now,

the fact that Maine lacks diversity isn’t necessarily a problem.

It becomes a problem when you only know black people from TV

and they’re all “thugs” and criminals.

It becomes a problem when the only Arabic name you know is

Osama Bin Laden.

It becomes a problem when the only gay person you’ve heard of is

a sex offender.

It becomes a problem when the only Asian face you’ve ever seen was

as a category on a pornography website

and she was,

we assure you,

“over 18.”

 

The fact that Maine isn’t racially or culturally diverse is not the problem.

The problem is

The lack of positive representation.

Because representation matters

not only for little Asian girls with dreams

but for the orientalist men who will exotify and sexualize her.

Representation matters

not only black kids who want role models,

but for the armed white man

who might think twice

when he’s about to shoot.

 

It’s 149 years after the Equal Rights Convention of 1867, and the United States has made a lot of progress.

We have a black president,

Gay people can get married,

and women have had the right to vote for 95 years,

so,

     “so stop complaining,” they will tell us.

Things are so much better than a hundred years ago,”

And it’s true

And it’s good

Until suddenly people have stopped stirring.

 

Because here’s the problem:

We have a black president

but last year alone

302 black people were killed by law enforcement

and young black girls are already dying in police custody

this year

Same-Sex marriage is legal across our country

and yet transgender people still can’t go to the bathroom without public outrage.

Women can vote

But we make 78 cents on the white male dollar,

and for a black woman it’s just

63 cents [12]

At UMaine we are blessed to have international students from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana, Burundi, countries all over the world

But there are people on campus who say things like

“well, 99% of our international students are probably not terrorists”

after hearing our students “speaking in their native tongue”

because Arabic is the language of terrorists,

not 19-year-old pre-med students.

 

We cannot let the pot get still.

We cannot stop stirring while people are burning

We cannot leave behind those who have stood by us and fought alongside us for decades.

 

How did a queer like me get this far?

Who got us our rights?

Who galvanized the Stonewall riots?

Lucy Hicks Anderson

Carlett A. Brown

Sir Lady Java

Marsha P. Johnson

Miss Major

Black

Transgender

Women [13]

 

And they did not start this effort

To become martyrs

To be forgotten when the rest of us got our rights,

Without them,

Black transgender women,

the most marginalized people in the world,

we wouldn’t be here today

So we can’t stop stirring

Until they too get justice.

 

If you call yourself a feminist

You cannot forget your sisters of color,

and you certainly cannot call yourself a feminist

if you forget your transgender sisters.

You cannot be pro LGBT

if you forget the B and the T and the QIA+

(and no, “A” is not for “allies”)

 

If you really “celebrated diversity”

You would keep stirring

Because progress for one person

Is progress for every person

And I know,

it’s heavy

and I know,

you’re so, so tired

but we can’t stop now

and we can’t do it alone

[1] Lyons, Christopher J., and Becky Pettit. “Compounded Disadvantage: Race, Incarceration, and Wage Growth.” Social Problems 58.2 (2011): 257–280. Web. 5 Dec. 2015

[2] McCartney, Suzanne, Alemayehu Bishaw, and Kayla Fontenot. “Poverty Rates for Selected Detailed Race and Hispanic Groups by State and Place: 2007–2011.” US Census Bureau. 1 Feb. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

 

[3] Laughland, Oliver, Jon Swaine, and Jamiles Lartey. “US Police Killings Headed for 1,100 This Year, with Black Americans Twice as Likely to Die.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 1 July 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

[4] Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield. “Syrian Refugees Not Welcome in 31 U.S. States – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

[5] Blake, Andrew. “Hate Crimes against Muslims in U.K. Nearly Triple after Paris Attacks: Report.” Washington Times. The Washington Times, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

[6] Blake

[7] Siegler, Kirk. “Remembering the Victims of the Planned Parenthood Shooting in Colorado.” NPR. 30 Nov. 2015. Web 1 Dec. 2015

[8] Wendy, R. “Diallo’s Mother Asks Why Officer Who Shot at Her Son Will Get Gun Back.” The New York Times. 2 Oct. 2012. Web 1 Dec. 2015

[9] Crimesider Staff. “Charges Dropped Against Cop in Fatal Raid.” CBS News. 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015

[10] Harris, Rodney, Julian Johnson, and Tracye Hutchuns. “Man killed after firing at officers in downtown Atlanta during chase.” CBS 46 WGCL-TV Atlanta. 30 Nov. 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015

[11] King, S. “Despite never lunging at police or lifting any weapons, Mario Woods was brutally shot down by San Francisco cops.” NY Daily News. 4 Dec. 2015. Web 5 Dec. 2015,

[12] Hill, Kathryn. “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap.” AAUW. Fall 2015. Web. 18 Jan. 2015.

 

[13] Aaron. “5 Black Trans Women Who Paved the Way.” MassTPCorg. 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

 

Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the "Glocal" effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth.