The Legacy of Dr. King—Dear White People

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge or controversy. -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday my goal was to listen to and share the words of the black folks I follow on social media. I was pretty scatterbrained, and my attention was not as focused as it could or should have been. Forgetting about racism or ignoring it–for even an hour or minute–means that you have racial privilege.

Dr. King has been a hero of mine since I was a little girl, for his courage and wisdom. I’ve learned so much since I first heard his dream speech or read my first picture book biography, and I will always be learning. I cannot stop listening. I cannot stop evaluating my subconscious or conscious thoughts, my actions and words and those of others, for microaggressions or racist behavior.

Don’t think that being called racist is a personal attack. I mean, it might be, but the point isn’t to get defensive. It is a calling-attention-to. It is a call to action. You don’t lash out for someone who tells you you’ve got spinach in your teeth. The racism which has bled through our nation’s history is far more serious than spinach. Say you’re sorry. Fix what you can. Do better. Read and listen and support.

Yesterday I let my mind soak in Dr. King’s words and let them sink deep down … but listening is nothing. Nothing without understanding, nothing without action.

February is Black History Month, and I challenge you to read at least one full-length novel–NOVEL–with a motif of racism written by a black human.* Nonfiction is great too, but it’s easy to filter as happening to someone else. Fiction becomes you. You become the characters. You empathize with them. You understand them and grow with them.

*Throughout the year, actively read books by black authors that are not about racism. During Black History Month, non-black folks have to acknowledge that racism has affected black history and continues to burden our present. But to only read “issue books” by black authors is to pigeonhole them and further reduce the opportunity for black writers to be free to write and have published any type of story. If you’re unsure where to start, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards are for children and young adults, and the NAACP Image Awards have eight literature categories: biography/autobiography, children, debut, instructional, nonfiction, poetry, and youth/teens. Your local library might also have a curated list or display throughout the year.

Places to start:
HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon. This YA came before The Hate You Give and is a multiple-perspective novel that cannot be missed.

THE HATE YOU GIVE by Angie Thomas. Buy this book. If you cannot buy it, put your name on a hold list at the library. Or steal your youth leader’s copy and pass it around your friends 😒😂

DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone, a YA novel written as letters to Martin Luther King, Jr.

CITIZEN by Claudia Rankine, a powerful book of poetry.

THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson, a middle-grade novel.

For audiobooks, Bahni Turpin is my favorite narrator. I listened to two of her performances of novels last year and cannot recommend her enough. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD was one.

Historical books are good, too, but they won’t shed light on the racism happening NOW in your community’s neighborhoods, classrooms, streets, and businesses.

There are so, so many more, but I’m also so, so late to work. There are hundreds of reading lists available online.

Take a careful look at the media you and your friends consume. Are you listening to any black voices? Are you seeing black faces apart from music or sports or the news? I know; many people were taught to “not see color.” But when you are colorblind, you are blind to what you cannot see. You are blind to what is missing or silenced.

I hate that Dr. King had a martyr’s death. But he did, so let’s make him a martyr. Let’s live true to his words and see that his dreams for America come true.

#mlkday #martinlutherkingjr

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