Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an important one to celebrate – there is a clear consensus on this. While I am glad that we are able to recognize the impact MLK Jr. had on the Civil Rights Movement, the way that we celebrate his legacy seems to be almost routine at this point. Enjoy your day off, watch a news segment in his honor, post one of his most famous quotes on your Instagram story and maybe – if you care enough – engage in some community service. These are fine traditions, but doing the same thing every year is hardly thought-provoking. Each year these news segments highlight the most famous speeches, with the same four or five quotes circulating on social media, and it seems that no one is considering how the same rights that MLK Jr. fought for are still being undermined today.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DREW UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES
In a panel on MLK day, Massachusetts congresswomen Ayanna Pressley defended what many people write off as “identity politics,” explaining that it’s not a way to divide our country, that but rather a fight against “hate and white supremacy that is codified through legislation [...] The solution is representation. And there is nothing wrong with identity.” Here, she meant to bring attention to the problems that make us think deeper about racism in our country; that even if we don’t mean to be racist, it is embedded in our governmental systems. It is not enough just to not say racist things, we must be actively thinking about how we are playing into systems of power, or how we can stop them. However, this speech was only publicized because Governor Baker belittled her sentiments by calling it a “rant.” Would her sentiment be as widely recognized if it had not been disrespected by another politician? Are we really considering the weight of her words, or are we just pushing the blame onto someone who more obviously is not properly honoring MLK Jr.?
It might feel uncomfortable to admit that we are all at fault sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t post your favorite MLK day quote, or that it’s bad to go help your community on your day off. But we need to do more than that. There are dozens of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. that we didn’t learn about in school, and there are issues that he focuses on that are not normally affiliated with him, such as economic inequality and gender equality. Even though MLK Day has passed, it is never too late to educate yourself on these issues and learn about Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism on them. Each year, in honor of his legacy, we should be challenging ourselves to grow in our compassion for others and knowledge about these issues that are plaguing our country.