Some thoughts about society, change, and progress on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.
- Recommended video: Barack Obama and John Lewis honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hello Earthlings, you’re watching Adam the Alien. Today is day four of Vlog Every Day April, and today was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.
I want you to think about that for a second. Exactly how you think about a span of time like fifty years depends a lot on what age you are and how much life experience you’ve had.
In other words, it’s all about perspective.
I bring this up because my perspective about Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights has changed so much over the span of my life. When I was a kid, learning about the civil rights in elementary school, I learned it as some far-away, lost in the past, distant thing. I learned it as if racism was done, and as if the civil rights battle was a long time ago.
But my own parents were alive at the same time as MLK. And now that I’m in my thirties, I realize: fifty years, while an impressive stretch of time, is still really, really, really small in the grand scheme of things.
Martin Luther King, Jr. might still be alive today if he had not been assassinated. All of this is a very important perspective to keep in mind, because one of the issues we’re facing today as a society is people thinking, “Oh, you know, we’re-we…we’re done! All of these things we fought for as people? We’re…we’re just…we’re done.”
This happens a lot with issues of racism. In part because of how privileged white people like myself were taught.
I think in school and in life, we often don’t talk enough about the long-term ramifications of historical events and historical actions that continued for centuries.
And even within progressive movements fighting for the rights of any group, there is a tendency for some people —especially those least affected by the consequences— to say, “Hey! We’re done! That’s it! We don’t have anywhere else to go! We did it! We fixed humanity! Let’s just sit back and enjoy the world as it is, and never change again.”
But that is not how the world works! I think a truth of humanity is that we will always have somewhere to go. Just like, as people, we can always better ourselves in some way. We can always improve on who we are in some way.
The same is true of society. There will always be something that needs fixing. Fixing one problem will only show us what is broken somewhere else. And that’s okay. That’s good! That’s called growth!
The problem is that growing hurts. And societal growing pains hurt in weirder ways than personal, physical growing pains. And, of course, what is our natural response to encountering pain or discomfort? We want to make it stop.
So I understand people who just want things to be done. I get it. I want things to be done! I want the world to be perfect. But it never will be. So we always have to be improving. We always have to be growing.
And this is why, just as it’s important to listen to the wisdom of older generations, it is important to listen to the concerns of younger generations.
Because the younger generations are where things are going. The older generations found problems and said, “We need to fix this!” And, to the best of their ability —hopefully— did.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still problems. That doesn’t mean that the new, incoming generations don’t want to fix things for the generations that will come after them…after us.
Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, racism is clearly not over. It is still a pervasive element in our society. And there are still aspects of it that we need to fix that weren’t caused by anyone alive. They’re just, perhaps inadvertently, perpetuated by people who refuse to accept the responsibility of being in a place of privilege that was set up for them somebody who probably died centuries ago.
And, of course, there are still the more blatant, overt racists that we’ve seen become a lot more vocal in recent years.
This also applies to sexism. This applies to queer politics. This applies pretty much everywhere in life, from the vast, global stuff all the way down to your personal life and mine. We always have room to better ourselves. We always have room to grow. The worst thing we can do is sit back and say, “Nope! Nope! Nope! I’m done! I’m done! No more changing for me! I’m done changing! No more, no more. I’m done. I’m perfect. I’m a good person. I’m a good person, and so I cannot be a better person.”
Of course you can. We can all be better people. We can all be more compassionate people. We can all push towards a society where, at bare minimum, we accept this truth: we do not need to let anyone die. We do not need to let anyone be oppressed. And we need to continually push towards that goal.
And once we think we’ve achieved a goal? Frankly, we need to look for another one. Because it is not healthy, useful, or productive for any individual person or society as a whole to just rest on its laurels and say, “Nah! We have achieved everything that could possibly [be] achieved, and we’re done now.”
The nature of humanity is that we are never done. If you ever find yourself thinking, “Yeah! We’re done. We have achieved every possible thing in this realm of life and society that we possibly can,” odds are you’re going to end up on the wrong side of history.
And even if not…in my opinion, you are on the wrong side of humanity.
I hope everyone grows a little, today. And I hope everyone is a better person tomorrow than they were today.
Until next time, I’m Adam the Alien. Fare thee well.