The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2018
Published January 15, 2018
Long before Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a national holiday, I admired the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the tremendous deed of laying down his life for a cause that was bigger than his own and the volumes of writings, sermons and speeches he left behind that are filled with wisdom and inspiration.
As an American Indian his words about how “our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race,” resonated with me to the core of who I am as a Potawatomi when I first read it.
The passage taken from Dr. King’s 1963 book, Why We Can’t Wait continued:
“Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”
At a young age, I discovered Dr. King was man who was a champion beyond the African American community. Ultimately, the Dr. King’s message was too powerful for a racist society; he was murdered on a fateful evening in Memphis in April 1968.
As Dr. King wrote, our nation was born in genocide. It can also be said this nation was conceived in racism that has worked to keep non-whites subjugated throughout American history. Arguably, some progress was made in race relations during the past several decades. Barack Obama, an African American, was even elected president. One year after Obama’s election, a Pew Research poll indicated African Americans felt there was progress being made and there was hope for a better future. By October 2017, a major shift in attitude among African Americans had already taken place. Another Pew Research Center report indicated 59 percent of African Americans maintain that racial discrimination is the main reason why many African Americans cannot get ahead in the United States today.
Trump has portrait of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson looking over his daily moves in Oval Office.
Perhaps, the shift in attitude came the result of the rise of Donald Trump, who from his first day of his presidential campaign showed what a racist he is by making disparaging about Mexicans. Since then, Trump has shown his racist tendencies through a series of statements and deeds, including installing a portrait of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office, leading up to last Thursday’s meeting in that same office where he was meeting on immigration legislation with seven members of Congress. The meeting came to a juncture when protections for people from Haiti and African nations were discussed. Suddenly, the president demanded to know why the nation should keep accepting immigrants from “[expletive] countries” instead of countries such as Norway. The account was first reported in the Washington Post.
“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said. “Take them out.”
When it comes to racial matters, Trump and his allies like to speak in code words. To decipher, Haiti and African translates to “black people” and people from Norway are “white people.”
The White House never denied the president’s words. They countered with a flimsy statement.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” spokesman Raj Shah said. “. . . Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”
On Friday morning, Trump denied making the vulgar statement through a tweet. By Friday afternoon, Senator Durbin (D-Illinois), who was the lone Democrat in the Oval Office, confirmed Trump had indeed used the “[expletive] countries” statement. According to Durbin, Trump said “things which were hate-filled, vile and racist.” Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) substantiated Durbin’s account.
All of this on the eve of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday.
I find the Trump presidency with all of its racist overtures rather pathetic and depressing. One friend recently told me to “keep the faith.” To keep the faith, I find myself reaching for scholarly written material. I love reading Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” because he demonstrates that racism must be met with well-thought out arguments that can be articulated when needed.
Last Friday night, after the reports of Trump’s disdain for dark-colored people, I found some solace by reading the late American Indian scholar John Mohawk’s “Thinking in Indian.”
“Racism is an ideology that has its origins, theoretically, in the shaky premise that some people (specifically civilized people) are biologically superior to other, less civilized peoples…And yet, as an ideology, it has more followers than any religion,” writes Mohawk.
Here was Mohawk saying racism has more followers than any religion. His statement made me to understand a little more about why America voted for Trump, who speaks directly to the hearts of racists in this country. Racism transcends socio-economic status; Racism’s ugly head transcends religion. Now we see a little more clearly how so many evangelical Christians could support such a vile man as Trump.
In the days of Trump, while celebrating Dr. King, it is proper to borrow from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the publisher and editor of Native News Online.