Martin Luther King Jr

Connect Intellectual Diversity to Justice Work

Diversity and Justice

(Photo Credit: Democracy Now)

Although an aggressive pursuit of racial, social, economic, and educational justice is admirable and necessary, those engaged in justice work must connect intellectual diversity to their efforts. You cannot claim to champion justice while failing to welcome and appreciate ideas and viewpoints divergent from your own. Justice isn’t justice when it’s disconnected from love. In fact, Dr. Cornel West, one of the greatest minds, public intellectuals, and fighters for justice in world history, often says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Are you so “woke” that you only see your ideas and viewpoints as the vehicles through which change can be instigated and engendered?

Democracy, Intellectual Diversity, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When looking at how to create change, one doesn’t have to look any further than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a real change agent and justice leader, the man who changed America forever. King met, engaged, and debated everyone, including racists and those desiring to kill and undermine him. He understood to develop solutions that have broad support discourse with those known and perceived to be disagreeable is required. The world-renowned slain civil rights leader was serious about democracy, keenly aware of how frank debate, especially with various opposing sides, is essential to an authentic multivocal, multiethnic democracy.

Kingian democracy, therefore, longs for inclusion, inclusion of all voices—regardless of how unsavory—revealing an unwavering faith in democratic ethics and possibilities. In Prophetic Fragments: Illuminations of the Crisis in American Religion and Culture, Cornel West (1988) asserts that: “King was convinced that despite the racism of the Founding Fathers, the ideals of America were sufficient if only they were taken seriously in practice. Therefore, King’s condemnation of and lament for America’s hypocrisy and oppression of poor whites, indigenous peoples, Latinos, and black people was put forward in the name of reaffirming America’s mission of embodying democracy, freedom, and equality” (p. 11).

King didn’t exclude the racist Founding Fathers from his notion of democracy. Unfortunately, though, too many in the postmodern epoch isolate themselves from others for far less critical differences. In this moment of increasing moral, social, cultural, political, and religious decadence, people will isolate themselves from others over the most inconsequential personal choices, including a choice not to “boycott” the NFL or make posts on social media platforms that pledge allegiance to their capricious brands of “woke.”

King embraced the reality that any valid notion of freedom and democracy must welcome intellectual diversity. As Booker T. Washington stated in his 1895 “Atlanta Compromise” speech delivered at the Cotton Estates and International Exposition in Atlanta, “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” Washington, sharing some affinities with King, understood the power of intellectual diversity. Washington anticipates the Kingian “beloved community.” With agapic love, King evinced for a nation, for the globe how potent, how beautiful diversity in all of its flavors can be and how we can enjoy being “separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand.”

Postmodern Fragmentation: A Challenge for Justice Work

In Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, leading Marxist cultural theorist Fredric Jameson (1991) asserts that one of the central problems in postmodernism, the cultural and historical period in which we reside, is a general proclivity to cherish fragmentation and reject totality. This fatuous acceptance of fragmentation figures prominently in whether efforts to achieve racial social, economic, and educational justice are successful. Late capitalism’s cultural logic leads too many individuals, individuals claiming to work for justice, to quarrel with one another over their petty differences, sacrificing their collective interests and aspirations for their own selfish interests and wishes.

Selfishness and Justice

To overcome this troubling propensity for selfishness, courageous and indefatigable justice activists and leaders must expose the rot, the funk selfishness is. We should never allow our personal agendas and interests to hinder and supercede the collective good, interests, and aspirations. When we do, we equip and permit the elites, the oppressors, the ruling class to erect additional barriers to the work of justice that’s crucial to achieving justice.

Before you disengage with people, especially those who have the same interests and goals as you (just with differing ideas and methods pertaining to those interests and goals), recognize when your words and actions are self-defeating, frustrating the very justice work you profess to hold dear.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jim Crow Rears His Ugly Head Again: Disrespecting the MLK Holiday in Georgia

Gilmer County and Fannin County school systems in Georgia have decided that they cannot find any other alternative to making up school days missed because of the snow storm without using the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday to help make up those days missed. Well, Black folks are more sophisticated than that. We know racism when we see it—no matter how much you try to hide it. Don’t scapegoat God’s great snow to try to conceal your racism. If these school systems were looking to find alternatives to using the MLK holiday to make up for the school days missed, they could just change the scheduled last day of school to a date that would make up for the days missed. We find ways to do what we want to do, so don’t tell me that you cannot avoid using the MLK holiday to make up for school days missed due to the recent snow storm that much of the state of Georgia suffered. Read more about this story here:

You would think that White people in Gilmer and Fannin Counties in Georgia who made the decision to disrespect the MLK holiday by using it to make up for days missed due to snow would have progressed in their thinking by now. Unfortunately, some White people will never progress in their thinking when it comes to serious race matters. I contend that the White school leaders in the predominantly White Gilmer and Fannin Counties are trying to make a statement about whether or not the MLK holiday should really be a holiday in the first place. They are trying to spur statewide and national debate about whether or not Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy is truly significant enough to warrant being celebrated as a federal holiday. Well, if you are racist, then you, of course, will never view the valuable contributions that Dr. King made to America as truly valuable.

It’s not that I’m surprised that racism is not present in my home state of Georgia. It’s not that I’m surprised that racist White people in Gilmer and Fannin Counties don’t want the MLK holiday to be a federal holiday. What I’m surprised about is they would try to fool people of all races that what this is really about is simply making up for school days missed and not about their racial prejudice and racism. I’m pleased to let the educational leaders of Gilmer and Fannin Counties know that we know that this is not about snow, but about your racial prejudice and racism. The MLK holiday exposes racist people because they become uncomfortable with the reason why they get to be out of school and work: to observe the life and legacy of Dr. King. This profound life and legacy unsettles them because the power of this man’s words and actions are able to make even the most hate-filled bones realize the ignorance behind that hate. Racist people know that their hatred is ignorant but they still elect to continue to live in ignorance.

I know some of my readers will argue that I should simply come to expect this kind of thing and that this kind of thing happens all of time and it does not do any good to spend this much time on a piece in response to it. I could not, however, disagree more. That’s the problem! We don’t do enough calling out of the racial prejudice, discrimination, bigotry, sexism, and racism that we experience daily. We need to do more to bring attention to these types of things. Ignorance can be defeated when we zealously speak to it with truth. When we champion love and justice more, we can begin to make people like the educational leaders in Gilmer and Fannin Counties feel more uncomfortable and less likely to make decisions that are going to be disrespectful, racist, and insensitive to most people in America and across the globe.

The predominantly White parents of Gilmer and Fannin Counties are complicit in the racist decision of the educational leaders of their counties by not protesting this decision. Hmm…obviously it’s not just the educational leaders in these counties who are racist—the majority of the people in these counties have to be racist for not wanting to put up any challenge to this racist decision.

Don’t lie and say that there were no other ways to address the missed days of school due to snow. Just be real, tell us that you are racist.

On this MLK holiday, find ways to apply the dominant themes of justice, peace, love, community, selflessness, hope, and character that Dr. King spoke about and represented in his actions. Don’t just sit around and talk about Dr. King and listen to his speeches—go out do the work that Dr. King championed.

I encourage everyone to write letters and protest the decision of the educational leaders in Fannin and Gilmer Counties to take away the MLK holiday from the students to make up days missed because of the recent snow storm in Georgia. Let them know how you really feel. Show them how you really feel. Let them feel your presence. Don’t let them forget what they have done on such a special day like today! This is not a time to let racist people have the victory over us—this is a time to fight their tactics, to fight their ignorance, and to fight their oppression. Stand up and fight!

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Standing Up for Albany State University

Albany State University, the pride of Southwest Georgia, currently needs the support of all current students, alumni, friends of the institution, and supporters.  Although we are currently facing some vexing economic conditions, it is unacceptable for our institution to have to suffer in the way that proposed budget cuts would cause our institution to suffer.  ASU has faced great challenges in the past, but none of those past challenges have been able to sink the unsinkable ASU.  It is time for us to act to preserve and protect our great university.  Albany State University has given us so much and it is time for us to reinvest in our great university.

Unfortunately, we cannot sit back and wait to reinvest in ASU—we must do it right now!  At this very moment, there are serious budget proposals in the Georgia state legislature that would fundamentally eliminate the Albany State University Graduate School, end all study abroad programs, eliminate three undergraduate programs, and cause numerous people working for our fine institution to become unemployed.  I refuse to let these phenomena become realities.  The harsh reality is, however, that without meaningful action and involvement from you, these terrible phenomena will become realities.

For those of you who are attending the institution right now, you do not have a choice but to act.  Your institution is under attack and you need to respond right now! For those of you who have graduated from the institution, you need to respond right now because your institution is under attack!  For those of you who are supporters and friends of the institution, you need to act today too because there is no better time to demonstrate your support for the institution than now.  If you fit none of the aforementioned categories, and you just support higher education in general and/or minority serving institutions (like Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs]), then here is a golden opportunity for you to make a significant difference in the lives of so many people who have benefitted tremendously from this prestigious and meaningful institution.

In most of the works written by Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi and man who marched on the front lines with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they contend that it is not cowardice that is the worst phenomenon, but it is indifference to evil that is the worst phenomenon.  When you think about all that Albany State University has done for you and countless others, it would be evil for us to allow the Georgia state legislature to cut our institution’s budget this dramatically.

Here’s what needs to be done immediately: contact your Georgia state House and Senate representatives and your U.S. House and Senators today, and tell them to make sure that Albany State University does not fall prey to any budget cuts, especially any budget cuts that would cut any programs at our fine institution. Let’s act today!

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison