Let us be vividly clear about this.
What the New York Times did to Michael Brown today was not merely slander. It wasn’t a case of a lack of journalistic integrity.
Highlighting that a black teenager was “no angel” on the day he is being laid to rest after being hunted and…
This article has some deep thoughts.
1) Education is the largest profession in the US employing a significant number of African Americans.
2) African Americans teachers have historically been underpaid and work in environments with worse conditions and are therefore more likely to be union members.
3) When New Orleans dissolved their contract with the teachers union (saying that they had vacated) and instead turned the city over to charters it not only severed the communities connections with the school, not only changed the makeup of educators to be much less reflective of the community but gutted one of the biggest sources of black middle-class employment ensuring that the African American communities that did recover were considerably poorer demographically.
(Source: Washington Post)
So the question the inspired this 2-part post was “What do I want my children 5 and 7 to know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr?” For those that didn’t read part1 here’s where I left off:
It was in understanding the scripture (Matthew 5:38 turn the other cheek) that the true genius of the strategy of nonviolence employed by Ghandi and then Dr. King is revealed. We think of his accomplishments as ideological or legal battles fought and won but that wasn’t it at all. His true accomplishment was to force an oppressor to change their posture and engage blacks as an equal.
What did Martin Luther King Jr. do?
"Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ended the terrorization of black Americans, particularly those living in the south."
No. I did not stutter, or mistype. I mean that Dr. King taught systematic anti-terrorism. I can’t take credit for the breakthrough. I found much of this perspective here.
Yes, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP won several legislative victories that enacted or stuck down official laws. These laws prevented blacks from fully participating in American life, but they only represented a small part a system designed keep blacks in perpetual subjugation. The power that undergirded this unjust system and kept it aloft was terror. Terror reinforced the written and unwritten norms of unequal protection under the law and callous disrespect for the rights and humanity of blacks. HampdenRice writes:
“[Terror] was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them”
White people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.”
White people occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty. With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”
This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.
This system of terror was far worse than a law because it existed as a complex set of cultural norms. The norms were accepted by many whites and internalized by many blacks in the forms of dozens of compensating behaviors aimed at doing everything possibly to not invite the often random violence inflicted on blacks by whites. The author writes well about how these behaviors are part of a very complex racial identity that it has taken the collective black consciousness generations to come to terms with and still works to undo.
The real threat to any black that “forgot their place” as being underneath the boot of any white person was not prosecution under the law. The real threat was being spirited away from their homes, ritually mutilated and left as an example to others as to what happens when they disrupt the “order”. Today we would (hopefully) charge someone with home invasion, kidnapping, sexual assault, torture, premeditated murder and yes, domestic terrorism.
Dr. King’s non-violent protests at their core were organized systems of collective bravery. Bravery that forced large portions of the American public to change its posture towards black Americans. That if, in mass, blacks stood together and challenged small elements of the order like riding a bus, or eating at a lunch counter or using a bathroom - in outward defiance of the written and unwritten rules then the informal punishment system would become overwhelmed. There were too many to terrorize. Black people began to see that they could organize, that violence would happen but they didn’t have to respond with fear and that they could shame America into seeing what it was doing or allowing to be done.
Here’s what I taught my children.
Martin Luther King Jr. showed black people how to stand up and demand to be treated just like white people. He showed them how to do it without anyone getting hurt or anyone breaking the law (except the bad laws). He taught them to do it all together so that they didn’t have to be afraid of anyone trying to hurt them or even be afraid if they got thrown in jail. America was created so that everyone could have a place where they could be free. For a long time that wasn’t true and everybody knew it, but no one knew how to change it. Martin Luther King Jr. showed the whole country and the whole world that America said one thing and did something different and that when black people stood up and demanded that America treat them better, America got better for everyone.
Yesterday, Nicole and I were in a cafe making a sales pitch when a woman came up behind me, grabbed my hair and kissed me full on the mouth! She looked about 50, maybe 110 pounds with a short, flirty, colored haircut and I had no idea who she was. She bounced up and down said how amazing it was to see me and said “I hope that isn’t your wife? It IS?! Hi!!! and then hugged her. It wasn’t until she pulled up a chair and began to tell us (and our equally stunned potential customer) about HER startup!” that I wiped the stupefied look off of my face and figured out who this woman was.
Admittedly she’s on a lot of drugs. “Morphine!” she says quite jubilantly. Judy is an amazing woman and a great friend. This past September I returned to the gym where we were part of an experimental co-ed fitness program “Beauties and the Beasts”. My life has since gotten too hectic and me too poor to continue going so I workout at home now. Judy was the only female that consistently did the “Beast” routine and I loved working out with her. Our trainer told me she was sick and I called her. She never called me back. She laughs. “Its hard to call someone back and say.. yeah I’m dying”. Her short pixie haircut was the sign of her reclaiming her life. It was as much as she’d grown back after the decision to stop the chemo that had added a decade to her face and stripped her shapely physique down 35 pounds. But in her eyes and her voice it was all Judy - plus a little morphine. She’d beaten breast cancer 13 years ago, amazing her oncologist by having two kids after 8 rounds of chemo and radiation. But it came back for her liver. Her doctors gave her 18 months to live, 2 years ago.
So what did she do? She started a startup, applied to an incubator and launched a nonprofit. There is nothing more inspiring than an entrepreneur with stage IV cancer. She pitched 4 people on her upcoming fundraiser while we finished lunch. Then she hugged my wife and told her how lucky she was, how lucky we both were and she kissed me once more and said “I love this man”.
I love you too Judy.
Ok here’s the setup:
Occasionally my kids come home discussing topics they discussed in school that I’d really prefer they learned from my wife and I. I want my kids grow up to be strong morally centered individuals. I cringe when I remember the pain that can be inflicted by well-meaning but misguided teachers leading discussions of sensitive topics when there is only one brown face in the classroom. (Think “Let’s re-enact a scene from our social studies book on slavery, Khalid you be the slave” Yes, I’m looking at you Dick Sesso!) Anyway, when my kids come home saying “Daddy, we’re brown-skinned and brown-skinned people celebrate Kwanza, why aren’t we celebrating?” we have to talk. This Saturday it was “Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream and that’s why I can go to school with Hannah.” We’d touched on racism before. My son loves football movies and he struggled through the racially charged plots of “Remember the Titans” and “The Express”. I wanted to know, to hear from me what it meant to be black, what it had meant to be black, but as I learned many times before - you learn very quickly whether or not you truly understand something once you try to explain it to a 7 year old. I realized that I wasn’t sure what I really wanted them to know. I did my research. Here’s where my search led me.
A now what I really want to say:
In Matthew 5:38 Jesus says “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
Several sources I read note that the “turn the other cheek” is one of the most cited and misunderstood of Jesus’s teachings. This is where I found my answer to what I wanted them to know about Martin Luther King Jr. This is where I learned what Martin Luther King Jr. really did.
First, some physics. The text is very specific. It says “if I slap you on the right cheek.” For me to hit you on the right side of your face I would have to use my left fist or the back of my right hand. (Try it you’ll see). In that culture, the left hand was reserved for unseemly purposes like wiping ones self - so if you were struck on the right side of your face you were most likely backhanded which, in addition to assault, was a sign of disrespect and inferiority. It was literally adding insult to injury.
So here Jesus describes the third way of approaching the dilemma. He doesn’t advocate fighting back, he also doesn’t advocate silently acquiescing to either insult or injury. Offering the aggressor your left cheek eliminates the possibility of being backhanded with the right hand. (Again try it out with a partner). The aggressor is faced with a dilemma. He can conceded the battle, without you lifting a finger or he must effectively change his posture toward you. For the antagonization to continue he must strike you with his right fist. A sign that he is no longer dealing with a subordinate but an equal.
This was the wisdom of Jesus’s comment. Not to subject yourself to senseless beating like some rope-a-dope boxer trying to get his opponent to waste all his energy beating you into oblivion. Jesus was saying that the physical fight becomes a meaningless squabble. Victory occurs in the middle of the struggle when your adversary, in order to continue persecuting you, decides to engage you as an equal. The outcome of the resulting fight (which notice Jesus does NOT expressly forbid) is immaterial. Of course this plays out as Jesus willingly accepts punishment for crimes he did not commit and where he clearly had the power to repel any one or thing that would seek to harm him, because, in persecuting him they changed their posture towards a mankind that rejected, denied and persecuted him even as he forgave them.
So back to Dr. King. What did I want my children to learn?
It was in understanding this scripture that the true genius of Ghandi and Dr. King’s non-violent strategy is revealed. We think of their accomplishments as battles fought and won but that wasn’t it at all. Their true accomplishment was to force an oppressor to change their posture and engage them as an equal. What did Martin Luther King Jr. do?
"Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ended the terrorization of black Americans, particularly those living in the south."
What? No. I did not stutter, or mistype. I mean that Dr. King taught systematic anti-terrorism. Here’s what I taught my children in part II.
My BigIdeasFest talk from half-moon bay outside San Francisco on December the 3rd. I’d just finished my last StartupWeekend Education event after midnight, hopped on 5AM west coast flight got off and gave this talk at noon pacific. I was so proud of how far StartupWeekend Education had come and where I thought it could go. I should have practiced the talk more, I ran out of time and didn’t really get to nail my points at the end, but the talk was extremely well received. (Big shout out to Nancy at empoweredpresentations for being an awesome designer that really had a vision and ran with the concept!) Ya’ll know the rest of the story, flew home, got off plane, got fired, the crying is done but I’m so happy that the BigIdeasFest team finally published this. This was an amazing conference and I look forward to attending next year, talking about (and doing) more big things!
This is a radio show piece that was produced by Michael Klein. Winner of SWEDu Seattle and Humanities teacher at High Tech Middle School in San Diego California. He shadowed me as a put on what would be my last Startup Weekend Education in Baltimore in December of 2012. As I write about what made Startup Weekend Education special and where hacking education needs to go to continue to be effective - his documentary work is a great foundation to draw from and I’m incredibly grateful that he did this, that he’s shared it with me, and to know him as a friend and fellow laborer trying to bring innovation to education.