In his 1967 book Where Do We Go From Here? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr wrote these prophetic words: “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.” More than five decades later the chaos is all too apparent: When we look around we are faced with a raging pandemic with its mounting death toll, acute economic distress, a climate in peril and the fury of the January 6th insurrection and all that was behind it. We are at a proverbial crossroads. Collective action can address these problems. We can choose. Will it be chaos or community?
White privilege. What’s that? White people have choices and advantages simply because of the color of their skin. Many whites are unaware of it. Peggy McIntosh, a noted women’s studies scholar in her classic essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack,” wrote: “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr has been branded and packaged. The sharp edge has been largely replaced with a dull and unthreatening one. King moved way beyond his poetic "I Have a Dream" speech to a radical societal analysis. His ideas in his last few years have been glossed over and sanitized. This is what he said in his 1967 "Beyond Vietnam" speech: "A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth." He warned America, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
Michael Eric Dyson, a globally renowned scholar of race, religion and contemporary culture, is the Centennial Chair and University Distinguished Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University. A dynamic speaker, he lectures widely. Among his many books are April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King’s Death and How it Changed America, Tears We Cannot Stop, Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, and Jay-Z: Made in America.