Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day. Which means that students had the day off of school. Yes. That’s most of what I was thinking about MLK day. That I didn’t have to go to genetics.
My plan for Monday to wake up early, bike to the Museum of Fine Arts and camp outside the doors they opened at ten to catch the last day of an exhibition of Goya’s work.
I’ve been planning to see this exhibition since October. And have somehow hadn’t made it. Four times. You see- this is kind of a special thing. The MFA amassed the largest collection of Goya’s art in history and is now in the process of sending each painting back to it’s original home. It was sort of a once and a lifetime opportunity.
Determined to actually make it into the exhibit hall, I got up around 7, packed everything up for the day (which would be spent in line and then in a cozy coffee shop) and got my bike ready. And then I went outside. It was gorgeous yesterday. Absolutely beautiful. You could say spectacular for January in New England.
Yesterday was a gift. And I decided, as much as I wanted to see Goya, that it wasn’t worth spending most of my day in line. Inside. To see a collection of masterly crafted, unique, beautiful in it’s own right, but nonetheless quite dark artwork. My heart wasn’t in it. So I chose the sunshine over the dark paintings in a dark museum room.
While I’m a little bummed, I think I made the right decision. I spent the day walking around Sommerville, running errands, biking around, finishing some job applications, getting crafty, opening my huge windows and setting up a lending library in a corner of my room (one of my life goals- to be a librarian! And it’s happening!). It was a good day.
In the evening my small group decided to do our weekly bible study meeting a little bit differently. So we all met at the movie theater to see Selma in honor of MLK day. I’ve certainly been wanting to see this movie. But more in a- oh look there are so many good movies out right now! I hope that I can catch some of them- sort of way.
I was not prepared for this movie. But then I was at the same time. It met me in a way I can’t really explain, forcing me to reflect on several rather painful experiences that I’ve had, and others have had as well, in the past two years.
I cried during that movie. I cried when I watched group of white police officers in Alabama stormed into a cafe and beat an 82 year old black man while he watch his grandson brutally murdered. I was very tempted to turn away. Or cover my eyes with my hands. But I didn’t- this was something that I needed to see.
My mind flashed back to a little over a year ago, when my study abroad group visited a torture center in Santiago that was later turned into a memorial. You can read more about my experience here: Villa Grimaldi and Medical Ethics. That day we were accompanied by a scholar that was tortured by the Pinochetian Dictatorship at that very spot. After listening to the horrific experience of this man- I turned to a friend on the program and said- somewhat to myself. I can’t believe that this happened. It’s a crime against the very core of humanity. She nodded solemnly. You’re right Stacey. And you know what makes it worse? Similar atrocities are happening right now. Somewhere in the world.
It struck me. I will never forget how I left that museum feeling.
It was the first time I had thought about history as a fluid contributor to present and past. I was always taught history as just that. History. Something that happened in the past and lived there forever in memories and textbooks. But it doesn’t work that way. History at the least colors the fabric that we’re made out of. It is part of who we are at the fundamental level. It isn’t just history.
That wasn’t exactly what I was taught growing up. Particularly when I was learning about the civil war and the civil rights movement. Keep in mind that I grew up in Texas. There is by definition no racial divide in Texas. There is no racism. There is no structural violence. There is no problem. We fixed that a long time ago, so it’s done. Things work well right now. At least that’s the overwhelming impression I got from my textbooks and the people in my life.
That history is colored. White. Those textbooks were written by white men. Edited by white men. Primarily about white men. From the historical recordings of white men. Taught by white men. So the history is white. Clean.
And because the history is perceived as finished and packaged and painted over white, the civil rights movement ended in 1965. It has no real relevance today, besides showing up on an occasional high school exam.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am white. I have predominantly majority identities when I’m living in the US. There are also a large number white men with predominantly majority identities (hence the large number part) in the US. I don’t believe that makes them bad. Or crooked. Or power hungry. Or whatever other adjective you want to put there. But I do believe that it makes us privileged. And privilege is a very dangerous thing when it is uneducated.
Let me give you an example that leans more towards politically correct side of things. Take a look at the way that cities are constructed in the United States. Where do people live? Where is the highest concentration of noise pollution? Of empty parking lots? Where are hospitals overfilled? Of unhealthy food options? Where are the gated communities? Where are the parks with new playground equipment? Where are the best medical facilities? Where are the nice restaurants? Or even grocery stores with fresh produce? Have you been watching the news in the past 4 months? Are you actually telling me that the civil rights movement is over?
The majority of Martin Luther King’s reflection of race relations in America is very much relevant if not true to the way that our society functions currently. In the same way that the murder of thousands of innocent civilians at Villa Grimaldi is replicated as you’re reading this. Right now.
The question is- what are you doing about it? If you have nothing to say you are part of the problem. I’m guilty of this, as represented by my plans for my day without genetics.
I don’t mean to push guilt in your face. Although that may be healthy to a certain degree. But I do encourage you to think about history as part of the present. Know your own history and how it influences your minority and majority identities. It won’t be easy- and it’s a process. A process that I’m in right now. Maybe that means educating yourself. Reading a book. Talking to a friend. Watching a documentary like Selma. Reflection on your own experience and the experience of others.
It may mean educating yourself. But I also encourage you to start with something that may seem a little more simple. Start today choosing freedom. Choose sunlight over darkness, as I did yesterday morning. Choose freedom for yourself- and how you make choices. Where you go, what you spend money on, what you eat, who you’re friends with. Choose freedom.
You may be thinking- that’s all good and well Stacey. But why do you waste your time thinking about all this. Why can’t you just enjoy the blessings that you have and live unconcerned and unaffected by all of this messy stuff.
You know why I can’t do that? Because not everyone has the privilege to make that choice. Very very few people do.
So don’t just choose freedom for yourself, choose freedom for other people. Recognize that you have choices. Options. Privileges.
Not everyone does. Most people don’t. Consider giving up some of your choices to allow others to have more. Sometimes it works that way. Limiting means giving. And giving lends freedom. To a place, a world, a society where people have more freedom to be who they are. Pursuing the things they care about. To become a better version of themselves. And to give more. To all involved parties.
MLK day started as an afternoon free of genetics. Largely unaware of the significance of the day. Silent to the voices of the past and subsequently the present and future. But it ended very differently. And I’m thankful that it did.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream