Today, on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech and the March on Washington, is a good time to not only remember an American hero and a pioneer in the way we think about our society, but also to reflect on the current state of racial equality in this country. A lot of writers around the web are musing on the issue, but this interview with King's daughter, Bernice King, struck a particularly strong chord with us.
Sometimes, especially on the Internet, it feels like we're not making much progress in terms of treating each other equally and respectfully regardless of race. But King says she feels good about the progress that has been made, and that her father would agree — "He would insist on acknowledging the good that has come over the last 50 years because that is who he was as a man. But he would continue talk about the tremendous work that still needs to be done. He would continue to push for those who are without." It is, she says, a fight that will never end, not just for black people in America but for those people who are disenfranchised in many ways, the world over.
This summer in particular has been discouraging for many given the outrage and the outcome of the Trayvon Martin trial. On that issue, King's measured and thoughtful words felt very sobering amidst a discussion that has grown increasingly reactionary and hate-filled (not without good reason, but the vitriol has been considerable). "Obviously a child’s death upsets me and the idea that so much had to be done just to get an arrest really does make the point that this country and African Americans have to be fully aware of what’s going on around us," King explained. And while she says she understands people's anger, she's attributing Zimmerman's acquittal to the defense instead of just the jury, as many have been inclined to do. Above all, though, she's troubled by some of the imagery that manipulated her father's likeness, putting him on the now-iconic hoodie: Dr. King "was a man of his times and felt all parts of his presentation were important so it bothered me from that standpoint."
Like Trayvon Martin, Dr. King has become a symbol, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But his daughter's words here are a good reminder to us all that — and this was a core part of his philosophy — any complex social or political issue is never cut-and-dry, and that while the goal may be clear, the process always requires a lot of patience and a willingness to listen. If that sounds like a good policy to you, definitely check out the full interview, and maybe take a moment to re-watch the full video of King's original speech, in all its nuances and less-quoted-but-equally-notable moments. (The Daily Beast)