Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Day

Every third Monday of January, the US celebrates Martin Luther King Day in honor and remembrance of the civil rights leader and Baptist minister. The Rev. Dr King's activism began when a seamstress, Mrs Rosa Parks (another civil rights icon) refused to give up her bus seat to a white man as required by the Jim Crow laws of southern states such as Alabama. The laws segregated whites from blacks and required separate facilities for each.

King's most famous speech is the 1963"I Have a Dream" speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC during the March on Washington. The speech is now considered as one of the world's greatest speeches. A masterpiece of rhetoric, King's speech is styled like a sermon and alludes to the Bible, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and the US Constitution. My favourite lines are

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

And the lines many of the world's people remember

"Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring - when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children - black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics - will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

The earlier line is important to me. I do not think we have the right to call ourselves separate or even superior from others. My DNA is 99.9 percent similar to another person's DNA be that person is from Africa, Europe or Asia or whether the person is an Australian Aborigine, American Indian or African Bushman or a Pinoy Aeta. Thus race as a concept does not and should not exist. And whenever we are asked to indicate "race" in any form the only honest answer would be "human" or better yet not to fill in the blank in the form at all.

Thus we cannot really judge the dignity of a man or a woman by the colour of his/her skin or his/her cultural attributes. We can only do so by the content of his/her character.

Of course you would say I am an idealist. My understanding of science cannot eliminate racism. Yes I agree with that. I also agree that America and probably each country in the world has a long way to go before there is true equality. If the American government forms still asks the person's "race" even if this were optional, the truth of the matter is, this should not be asked at all. And if we still assign certain attributes to ethnic groups (most of which are not nice) then this is the definition of prejudice.

But the Rev. Dr King Jr is really a prophet. As the 21st century post-modern world grapples for saints and the saints we need are no longer just Catholic or Christian or even of religion, but secular. Dr King is often raised as a model. And in reading about the lives of the saints, the choice for each and every one of us is whether we heed their message or not.

While the "Dream" speech may be inspiring, King's integration of his experience and theology was in the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail". It is said that his concept and reflection of unjust laws influenced the non-violent direction of the 1986 Philippine People Power revolt that resulted in Mrs Corazon Aquino taking the Presidential oath and swearing to execute "just laws".

Free at last?

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