“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
An 18 by 24 inch picture of Martin Luther King Jr., that adorns a special position on the wall at home in Benin took an unusual fall this past Sunday; a day which ironically is set aside annually in remembrance of this great icon, who for me is the world’s greatest civil rights leader of the 20th century.
As I replaced the picture/poster (taken at UC Berkeley) this past Monday, I reflected on the place of this man in my life, throughout my stay in America, and even now in Nigeria.
In fact a week earlier, the poster was the topic of discussion between me and my sister who was visiting from Louisiana. As we reflected on good times spent in our family home in Benin I told her that the poster, which was also a fixture in my cubicle at my last work place in Vacaville, California; is intended to serve as a historical lesson for the foursome in the house in Benin, as well as a reminder for me that the civil rights work against intolerance and hatred that MLK pioneered was now experiencing serious challenges; considering the sour state of race relations.
Only last month UC Berkeley, where Dr. King made one of his last speeches (during an Anti-Vietnam war rally), was the scene of another black mark on race relations in America. It occurred when three cardboard effigies of black people were found hanging by nooses at this prestigious school that I attended between 1998 and 2000.
According to official statements, “the effigies appear to be connected to a demonstration nearby planned to coincide with a national protest against police brutality dubbed, “#blacklivesmatter.”
Well, with the spate of police brutality, racial and ethnic violence and schisms as well as hatred against black folks lately, one has to ask the question: Do Black Lives Anywhere in the World Really Matter Anymore?
Which is why the civil rights work that Dr. King started has more significance now more than ever.
I remember becoming enamored with the work of this great man as a child during vacations in Ibadan with my late Aunty and her husband Professor and Mrs. Ette in the early 70’s. They had just returned from studies in the Atlanta area and used to proudly broadcast Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech to me and my cousins (including Sadie Ette, a 9/11 victim) every Sunday at their home on the University of Ibadan campus.
That speech, delivered on the steps of Washington D.C’s Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 before 250,000 marchers turned out to be the defining moment of Dr. King’s civil rights odyssey, especially his stance on affirmative action and the voting rights act.
I agreed with many of the points in Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in last year’s Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action, because it is one of the reasons that prompted me to file an EEOC claim in 2013 against my former employers in California and eventually forced me to leave a country I love because of the apathy against forensic racial discrimination.
Too many (including images of monkeys on my work computer) instances to recount here, but one that hurt so much was the sticker on the car of a Caucasian that trailed me all the way from work home one day. It read: ‘Does my flag offend you? Call 1-800 leave America.” As an American citizen that hurt so much.
In her 58-page dissent the Top Court’s first Latina Justice wrote. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
Opining this week in the New York Times, Chris Lebron, an assistant professor of African-American studies and philosophy at Yale University, hit the bulls eye when he wrote “ I think it goes without question that not only has the idea of a post-racial America proven to be a myth, but that racial inequality remains a tragic mark on the character of this otherwise great nation — a nation founded on respect not only for what persons hope to accomplish in life but for what they are: humans owed rights, liberty and respect because of their humanity.
The equal recognition of humanity has only intermittently taken hold with respect to black lives. The closeness of Emmett Till and Eric Garner attest to that.” “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” –MLK, Jr.