Rev Irene Monroe

King's vision of healing injustice

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | January 15, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: African-American, civil rights, human rights abuses, injustice, Martin Luther King Jr., MLK, morality, social justice

Many people working for justice today stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr. However, King’s vision of justice is often gravely limited and misunderstood. Too many people thought then, and continue to think, that King's statements regarding justice were only about race and the African-American community. However, we fail to see how King's vision of justice was far wider and challenging that we might have once imagined.

Martin Luther King, Jr.For King, justice was more than a racial issue, more than a legal or moral issue. Justice was a human issue. And this was evident in King's passionate concern about a wide range of concerns: "The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place," King once told a racially mixed audience. "Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice."

Moral leadership played a profound role in the justice work that King did. He argued that true moral leadership must involve itself in the situations of all who are damned, disinherited, disrespected and dispossessed, and moral leadership must be part of a participatory government that is feverishly working to dismantle the existing discriminatory laws that truncate full participation in the fight to advance democracy. Surely part of our job, in keeping King's dream alive, is to also work to dismantle discriminatory laws and dehumanizing structures.

However, if King were among us today, he would say that it is not enough to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken, like our institutions and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We must also look at the ways we manifest these bigotries.

Often, we find that these institutions and workplaces are broken, dysfunctional and wounded in the very same ways that we are; thus, being mirrors not of whom we want to be, but who we really are.

King would remind us that we cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves. So perhaps the greatest task, and the most difficult work we must do in light of King's teachings, is to heal ourselves in relationship to our justice work in the world.

In "The Old Man and the Sea," Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks us all, but some of us grow strong in those broken places. King's teachings invites us to grow strong in our broken places - not only to mend the sin-sick world in which we live in, but also to mend the sin-sick world that we carry around within us. We can only do that if we are willing to look both inward and outward, healing ourselves of the bigotry, biases and the demons that chip away at our efforts to work toward justice in this world.

I know that the struggle against racism that King talked about is only legitimate if I am also fighting anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, classism - not only out in the world but also in myself. Otherwise, I am creating an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for.

We are foolish if we think we can heal the world and not ourselves. We delude ourselves if we think that King was only talking about the wounding of institutional racism, and not the personal wounds we all carry as human beings.

In light of King's teachings, I believe that when we use our gifts in the service of others as King has taught us we then shift the paradigm of personal brokenness to personal healing. We also shift the paradigm of looking for moral leadership from outside of ourselves to within ourselves; thus, realizing we are not only the agents of change in society, but also the moral leaders we have been looking for.

Our job, therefore, in keeping King's dream alive is to remember that our longing for social justice is also inextricably tied to our longing for personal healing.


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Michael Bedwell | January 15, 2008 9:30 PM

Brava! One of the most graceful and important essays I've ever read on Bilerico. And the timing of addressing how we see outward and how we see inward is perfect—poised between last year's LGBT mutual slaughter house over ENDA and its echoes among some supporters of various Democratic candidates for President.

The outward? I want to believe that a Democrat will win the White House. But no matter which one it is, too many are still investing their hopes and hearts in the concept of a Savior, a White Knight [regardless of skin color or gender] who will easily slay all the entrenched sexist, racist, ageist, antigay and antitransgender dragons who have been breeding for centuries, and were purposely bred by successive Republican Presidencies.

For pure, cinematic-but-real-life imagery I'll never forget the night Bill Clinton was elected. Gays stopped traffic at the corner of 18th and Castro in San Francisco; the air was suddenly saturated with "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead" from the soundtrack to "The Wizard of Oz," and six men, in step with its march rhythm, came down the middle of Castro Street bearing a wooden coffin labeled "BUSH" on their shoulders which they lowered to the ground in the intersection and set on fire to a roar of approval of residents of "the city beneath the rainbow."

Much of the bitterness toward Bill, and by sexist extension his wife, is certainly not just about the substance of his many real failings but because he simply turned out not to be the White Knight so many old enough to know better expected.

Michelangelo Signorile has written specifically about the response in 1993 of some national gay "leaders" to his questions about how they expected Clinton to actually succeed in turning back a century of military homophobia with the stroke of a pen. Essentially they said, "Nothing to worry about. Clinton can make it happen." Sam Nunn, Colin Powell, and the Religious Right had other ideas.

We can hardly blame the next "hero" we elect if he or she turns out to only be human. But I'm not encouraged when I see how much demonization of candidates has been happening in the campaign itself before he/she has even been sworn in and faced a Congress and opposing Party with their own other ideas. However, the remarkable and unprecedented "truce" over charges of racism jointly called by Senators Obama and Clinton is reason to hope. Just as with the ENDA debate, if we destroy each other what do we gain?

And that is where the inward applies. The greatest "change" we need isn't in Washington. If we do not heal some of our cynicism, our kneejerk suspicions, our absolutism, our ever ready tendency to declare anyone who disagrees with us as driven by some 'ism, to indict them as enemies, we will never prevail over any of our proven enemies, we will never progress as individuals or a community. Nor will we collectively generate the kind of grassroots power that our elected champions will need to succeed. Thanks to Rev. Monroe for putting that in terms of a concept we too long ago surrendered to the Soul Killers: healing.

Yes, yes, yes. We need to be willing to look at ourselves just as we're willing to criticize others.

That's a whole lot harder, too.

One of the signs of making a significant change in society is when folks invoke the "What would so-and-so do?" question with your name in the quote. As many of us ask about MLK, he's made a difference indeed.

Now if we all only measured up.

The biggest problem is that many politicians and political players will fall all over themselves to lionize Dr. King himself, but far too few are willing to actually put his teachings into practice and adhere to them when they become inconvenient.

Hillary - perfect example. She lauds Dr. King on Meet The Press, but is still ok with excluding the poorest and most vulnerable minorities from employment protections, ala HRC/Dem Congressional leadership.

Too many of these people use King's name as a political buzzword to score points, but nowhere near enough remember to honor his legacy when the legislation is actually on the line and it's time to really take a stand for justice.