Monday, January 16, 2012

The Radicals

In South Lyon, we hold school on Martin Luther King Day so that we can academically and instructionally honor Dr. King and his work, as well as empower our students with his message and dream. We will take a school-wide approach that helps to demonstrate the importance of this remarkable man known as a heroic leader in the history of modern American liberalism and present him, as well as other events in the Civil Rights Movements, using a packet with various activities created by the social studies teachers.

A friend of mine posted this text from his local school bulletin on Monday. An explanation, from his local school board, not that they won't celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr's legacy, as they seem to emphasize here, but how they want to run the narrative of this day.

And I applaud them in one sense. Not for their honesty (they are _not_ honest about it), nor for their bravery, nor for their shrewdness. I applaud them because they sem to still understand what the state of Arizona understood in the late 80's, what Ron Paul and hosts of US law makers understood in the 70's and 80's.

What Stone Mountain understood in the sixties. What the FBI understood from the time he showed up on the scene.

That is: Martin Luther King was a radical whose ideas and message were and are dangerous to how America does business.

And I thank God for that.

He recognized that America is not the sweet land of liberty it had long promised it was - certainly not for all. He recognized that the United States was a nation at constant war with itself over its dual identities. On the one hand, we have the identity we purport to the world, that one that we love to think of ourselves as: The beaconing light upon a hill; The motherland and wellspring of democracy; the Land overflowing with milk, honey, and gold paved streets. In the other palm, squashed within the tight grip of the victors' histories, whitewashed Thanksgiving plays, scrubbed and sanitized media remembrances, are the ugly truths that the US has been and continues to be a nation built on genocide and slavery; that we've been more about competing powers than cooperating peoples.

King revolutionarily called us to cooperate by resisting against the powers. For that he was branded a radical, a Marxist, a Communist, an outsider, an agitator, a meddler. Some of those labels are misleading (Marxist), some blatantly false (outsider).

But that word "radical". Someone who tries to get to the root of the problem. It's always had some negative connotation, but particularly since the media and numbskull pundits have used it to identify terrorists (particularly of the Muslim variety... sigh), the word has lost its meaning.

A true radical desires a true revolution in values. A true radical is not satisfied with words or parliamentary procedures or minor changes that ultimately change back again. A true radical wants to see radical changes - even if she is realiatic enough to believe those radical changes will not come within her lifetime. (I have been to the mountaintop!) She says that slavery is not acceptable. Ever. For whatever reason. That genocide is a sin against humanity. That forced removal, criminalizing entire people groups, economic warfare, acts of militarisation on civilians, undering of natural resources, defending and apologizing for sexual assault, and other acts of rampant and brazen imperialism are plain unacceptable and not to be acquiesced.

The true radical is like a prophet: focused and unrelenting, her tongue is a fire set up in her bones that will. Not. Quit.

And she uses means to her ends. Usually, the means are secondary to the ends. They are thoughtful, usually. They are planned. Premeditated. Accomplishable. And, most of the time, nonviolent.

King took it a little further in the American conscience (not that he was alone or the first. He learned from the Quakers, for instance, as well as Gandhi and many others) to say that the means are inextricably linked to the ends.

And since King wanted to end the racist, classist, war-profiting hegemony to cease its hold on the rest of us, he should still be respected as a dangerous radical.

Not that that's the kind of lesson that South Lyon would teach its children. That would also be radical.


  1. I think I would need to hear more about what exactly the school is doing before I could determine that they were being cowards. Where is South Lyon? Do you have more details about what they're doing because a school deciding to hold classes "could" perceived as radical depending on what they're doing. Are they doing some public service as a school, going on an educational field trip, etc?

  2. It could be that I read the letter wrong. I tend to decode a lot and seeing the phrase " known as a heroic leader in the history of modern American liberalism..." as a dig at his actual legacy. The rest I see as more of an attempt at re-education.

    The friend who leaked this is looking into what they actually taught.


Be kind. Rewind.