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Wiley Wandering

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January 16, 2012

Coach Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King -- The "N" Word, and Necessary Leadership in Social Justice


Where is it that you placed your dream
and why is it
that as a team
we always appear to be in a game
we cannot win.
How badly we need you to return
and coach again.

Our squad needs direction
Some type of game plan.
We have yet to learn
how to score on “The Man,”
who blitzes us often
and stunts quite a bit,
intentionally roughs the passer
and doesn’t give a shit
as to the penalty flags
that might be thrown on the play.
He knows all close calls will be called his way.

With the referees on the take
the commissioner too,
it’s no surprise player loyalty
may not remain true.
Many feel that a victory
is just a momentary thing.
It hurts me how soon
you are forgotten
Coach King.

I have faith that we’ll discover
the plays you would have called,
that we’ll pick up the fumble
and run with the ball,
where even if we don’t score,
the yards we will have gained
will at least tell the world
you coached not in vain!

-- J.W. Wiley (1987)

As a young man in Southern California looking for answers to how people can treat others so poorly, if not hatefully, years ago I wrote a tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time I was relatively obsessed with sports, so the poem I ultimately wrote to honor Dr. King’s memory was written as a sports metaphor. On this day that the United States celebrates his memory, it is ironic and actually quite sad that the poem I wrote about him 25 years ago, still applies today. As I write this blog post I have in the backdrop of my mind four recent and local occurrences that remind me of how much work is still required to advance Dr. King’s mission.

1. An ex Teacher’s Assistant of mine walks to her car and finds a brochure affixed to her car window. She kept it and ultimately passed on a copy of this document to me. It is a six paneled marketing piece titled: “’N….’ Owner’s Manual.” It is quite an extensive document and is proof of the racial enmity that continues to exist in our society.

2. A White middle school student at a local school, who has African American friends, is so-called dating an African-American, nonetheless attempts to teach another middle school student how to say a dysfunctional sentence that includes the N-word, as entertainment amongst other ill-advised goals.

3. One high school teammate (who happens to be White-American), attempting to joke with another (who happens to be Black-American) is comfortable asking if the Black teammates’s prior city with an odd name was a “plantation.” When laughing about it afterwards, he was totally comfortable with having used the joke, though he acknowledged that he wouldn’t have said it if he was in the midst of a racial majority as a minority, instead of being a member of the racial majority speaking to a minority.

4. A White high school student who attends a local school posts on FB a conversation with his father that reveals his father’s ignorant attempt at wit, his father’s racism, and the student himself’s cluelessness about how he paints himself with a whole lot of people who he may think are laughing with him, but sadly are laughing at him. However, conversely, the fact that he would/could post such a thing on a social network with no apparent compunction also reveals how acceptable it still is to publicly use hateful language.

You tell me, have we gotten past the sentiment in the poem above, a wish for leaders that are capable of helping us advance diversity & social justice, and not just in terms of racism, but all the other socialized ills that we buy into blindly, or use to justify some of our own inadequacies? Is it too much to ask for leaders, hopefully beginning with parents, but also friends and neighbors that are committed to building a world free of hate? Is it too much to take the time to consider what we ultimately are doing to one another by not finding ways to promote love instead of acquiescing to jealousy, stupidity, or duplicity?

Can we huddle on this...or at least take a time out?