I know this is not politically correct, but I am not a fan of Martin Luther King Jr. day. It has nothing to do with MLK or the holiday, but how we treat the day in our society. When I was a kid, it mostly signified another day off of school, which at the time I had not problem with, but as an adult understanding what it is supposed to be about I has become quite frustrating.
In a way it reminds of my one friend who found ways every few weeks to get suspended from school so he did not have to deal with school. MLK day seems to be a holiday that is set aside so that we can get away from the issues and have a party! I know, I know, that is not what a lot of people do, but look at the bookings at Ski Resorts and other destination spots and you will see what I am talking about.
The problem with making something like MLK day a “day off” is the simple fact that in time it has become just that with various platitudes symbolizing race relations and, well, a lot of really good political photos, especially in election year.
The problem with all of this comes down to something that is inherently flawed with the holiday in that the problem we have with race relations is something that goes to the core of our very being, our desire to assert power over other people.
Many years ago, in 1968 the day after MLK was shot, a teacher in Iowa wanted to teach her students about race relations so she manipulated them with a now famous exercise called the “Blue Eye/Brown Eye exercise.” (I think from Jr. high through Seminary I saw the documentary on it at least 10 times, if not more). In a very short synopsis (See the frontline special from 1984 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQAmdZvKf6M) One day the teacher told the class that the blue eyed kids were to get special privileges because they were smarter, better, etc.; later, she reversed the statement to have the brown-eyed kids with the more positive attributes. What the kids saw was how easy it was to treat each other poorly based on perceptions and social pressure.
The interesting thing that she proved within the exercise, which did impact the children well into their adulthood, was how easy it is to pick up on one thing or another to assert power and control over another human being. It also showed how easy it is for those who were treated poorly to accept their place and not assert themselves. Moreover, and even more interesting to me was how when those who were persecuted were brought into power, they began to do the same or even worse than what was done to them.
Now through the years this has been scientifically studied and proven to be a naturally occurring process that is part of the human existence. Just look to the Middle East: every group who has ever had control subjugated the group that was not, just as the American society did to those who were slaves and then to the African Americans, especially, but not limited to the south, until people like MLK stepped forward to witness to the injustice and name the discrimination, calling for a new era of justice.
The problem is that we got a holiday. To some it has become a celebration of an end to discrimination, and to many it is yet another day away from school or work. But neither of those are what this day should be about, nor should it be about MLK; he was a great leader, but he was not the cause! If anything, this day should cause us to look back at ourselves and ask ourselves how we are treating each other. How we use assumptions of superiority – whether it be racial, economic, social, age, etc. – to treat others disrespectfully or subjugate them.
In other words, I encourage you this weekend to listen, remember the battles of the civil rights movement, and think about how you can work to break down the walls of injustice and strengthen the community, which is all equal in Gods eyes.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen