The Functional Aspects in King’s Writing: Reflections on ‘Where Do we Go From Here’

Where Do We Go From Here is Dr. Martin Luther King’s existential question, that leaves one to ponder the journey to a materialized space — proposed in his summation: chaos or community. This vehemently registers as obtuse, yet creatively brilliant. Or, it verges, on the notion of a risk, — of just how disenfranchised, Black people are in the United States.[1]King’s deployment of chaos as a descriptive noun relative to community produces a comparative tension that the reader is forced to re-imagine throughout the read. The mere audacity to equate chaos or community as a binary function is an interesting phenomenon to interject from the commencement. Because King uses “or,” he is intending chaos or community to be functionary in its application. There is nothing static, abstract or cerebral; he is writing a strategy to ignite a movement. In Where Do We From Here: Chaos or Community, Dr. King is presenting strategies for navigating through a terrain which may be chaotic or neighborly. [2]

Dr. King details how white fragility is amassing the courage to continually mishandle the humanity of Black people. He carefully, almost to a disheartening reaction, presents how whiteness has managed to misconstrue the difference between equity, equality and justice. Firmly positing that if one can respite or peace within spaces of justice, then equity and equality will become inevitable participants. But, justice wrongly affixed constructs an equality and equity that only benefits the privilege — white racist. King is desperately striving to engage a power structure that is, keenly, destroying, any resemblance of, anything that represents a powerful emblem of Blackness. Thus, King desire to dismantle racist structures and not just un-seed rhetoric, is visible. Interestingly, and yet inexplicable, it appears that he focuses more on un-seeding Black Power rhetoric in comparison to white racist rhetoric. Nevertheless, King’s desire to reconstruct a system that has intentionally allocated Black people as second-class is emerging. King audaciously writes, “Jobs are harder and costlier to create than voting polls.”[3]Here is where we find King in-breaking a designated space. Yes, he understands the voting poll is a valued placed but he is carefully assessing it in comparison to the jobs. This embarks on the notion of chaos or community from a personal connective. Understandably, both voting and jobs have lasting effects but he understands that there is more at stake when one attempts to create jobs. Jay Electronica, the New Orleans’ rapper, has a lyric in the song Renaissance Man, where he says, “my grandmother want leave the fuckin projects, I got to raise the slum up…”[4]In spirit of Dr. King, Jay Electronica (Jay Elect) is attempting to reconstruct chaos in order that it may benefit those who in are locked in its space. King is visualizing people like Jay Elect’s grandmother who will never leave or give up but need access to jobs and the voting booth. So, moving within a Jay Elect-ethic, he is making every effort to raise the conscious of white America as well as trying to restructure the system. Is King successful?: is the fundamental question, and could quite honestly be the simultaneous answer. This is Baldwinian frame of reference, where James Baldwin seems to use questions as answers. Not in the Socratic sense, in order to move the conversation into greater depth but in a way that finites the conversation with the rhetorical question. King is presenting such a frame but does himself a disservice with the subtitle chaos or community. Because he is developing infrastructure—community— in the midst of chaos, the usage of “or” forces the reader to make a choice throughout the text. But, clearly, he is not asking folks to make a choice; he is insisting that community can be developed in the midst of chaos.[5]Thus, we see the Jay Elect- ethic being brought to the foreground of the text.

Early in the text, King makes an integral shift that incorporates race and economic equality to the struggle for freedom in community. He writes, “Negro programs go beyond race and deal with economic inequality, whenever it exists. In the pursuit of this goals, the white poor become involved, and the potentiality emerges for a powerful new alliance.”[6] Though King does not mention much about the connection between the poor whites connecting to the movement this particular point blares out for further explanation. King has just expounded upon the fact that there has been “sluggish progress” but proceeds to denote how poor whites joining the movement becomes a major happening that sparked life into what King was strategizing. [7]What King did by gaining the coalition of poor whites was he solidified the validity of their agenda. This movement could no longer just be labeled simply a movement for Black Power, because poor whites had a valid investment within the movement. This is embarking on the Christian term of koinonia which means to fellowship but there is an investment that is connective with the fellowship. King’s theological underpinnings are vastly coming into play as he is strategically building the movement. He is faithfully trying to construct a movement that considers all of humanity (or at least all the men.) King is embodying this in his speech and praxis which makes it palatable though oftentimes disagreeable in application. I contend that King was wrong when he states that “Black Power was a slogan without a program.”[8]The Black Panthers were on the scene operating within the spectrum of Black Power with the Free Breakfast Program burgeoning on the horizon of January of 1969. And, within its corpus of thought and operating principals, they had white people who worked closely with them. What this depicts is King’s genteel southern Christian roots that radically beckon reconciliation with the hope that Black folk will get a significant piece of the pie to survive. King is pressing for this strategic move to happen but the emergence of Black Power registers with the spirit of the traumatized and beaten Black community. What it also shows is the slight disconnect that King has with the majority of the people who follow him. He cannot in a visceral manner understand why this is connecting with his followers. King’s upbringing is not similar to many of the people who are following him in the movement. So, to encounter such a radical statement like Black Power and a figure like Stokely Carmichael is a pedagogical event that forces him to comes to grip with his lack of street cred. Here is where I ponder the question of whether King is now asking is it chaos or community in an individualistic sense — self-introspection.

King critical analyzes of capitalism is the worldly problem that goes intentionally overlooked because to address his analyzes is to admit guilt. King was adamant that the world was amply filled with enough resources to care for the people of the world. The problem was that the greed that has humanity trapped has blinded the rich into believing that it has the authority to ration those natural resources to the highest bidder. King states, “There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will.”[9]When material wealth overshadows the welfare of the hungry evil has become a necessary good. King is viewing capitalism through such a perspective, but is not as bleak as I may be painting the picture to be. King generates a concerted effort to find the good in capitalism but continuously demonstrates how people are corrupted by capitalism’s thrust. Honestly, he admits, that we all live “eternally,” “in the red.”[10]I believe this is King giving capitalism the opportunity to get it right. However, he undoubtedly, comprehends that capitalisms will ultimately fail to see how we all are inextricably connected to others. It is within that theoretical framework where King is trying to find the sweet spot for the movement and the justice of America. The failure of capitalism to see “truth is collectivism” is the crux of why it is hard for King’s ideas of community to flourish in a capitalism. I want to be very clear that I am not saying that it cannot be constructed or started; but, I am referring to flourishing. King’s idea of community thrives on a collective theory of we all make it through whereas capitalism is centered upon the best/chosen/strongest only make it. Therefore, flourishing is not a communal happening but is individualistic. King is strongly and passionately fighting against the notion of capitalistic venture that rescues the privilege one and ostracizes the oppressed many. King understands it this way: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”[11]This is the revolutionary stance that King is aiming to ascend toward throughout the movement.

What I am proposing in this reflection is that King is not asking a question but making a statement. Throughout the text he is wrestling with what that statement will ultimate resemble, but, nonetheless, he knows that he is preparing for something in the end. I found King to be a bit to compromising in some places but I understood why he approached it in such a manner. Because, it is one thing to write a text for academic musing but it is another to write a text that will used as revolutionary weaponry. The application is different but how scholarship is appropriated in the given space challenges the writer to creatively construct a sentence that may save a life. Writing with that in mind is something that King had to keep in the forefront of his thinking, I suppose.

I have constantly repeated that King was not really asking a question but making a statement when he asked where do we go from here, chaos or community. In the last sentence of the official pages of the book, King writes, “This may be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.”[12]King has waited to the last sentence of the book to show that his question was his answer. He is still trying to figure out what America is trapped within. There are glimpse of how he is being influenced but the real changes do not bear fruit to a little later in his life. King is unsettled, and, rightly, so.

Concluding Thought

Blackness has always been the ambivalent reality of the American project. King’s brilliance is that he understood Blackness and the how racism handcuffed the humanity of the Black body. Where Do We Go From Hereis King’s attempt to provide a piece of literature that would speak to a generation after him about what the movement had to endure to get “that” point. He is very referential throughout the text and hopeful that people will look back, and remember what was exemplified by his generation. King has a nostalgic appeal that is essential to remembering how Blackness was the center of his reality. Though he is an integrationist, which is centered in his interpretation of Christianity, King is deeply committed to the plight of Black people. For most people, I would consider this a contradictory statement, but for King, it is a testament to his character. He embodied his belief in nonviolence and integration, which made his love for Black people even more viable. He was willing to give his life for the Black community. King was not just about frivolous banter but was action prone. He believed, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential.”[13]What can be concluded is that King was serious about making functional words and actions. I go back to his usage of “or” rather than “and.” I still believe it was problematic to entitled the book this way but using “or” produces a forthright-ness that engenders movement. And, we when we think of Dr. King we think about movement.

 

[1]I am not quite sure how to verbally commit to how risky I believe King is moving within the title. But, my usage of a comma to then a dash is an intentional indicator that signal that something I happening with speech that must be attended to. This is very Baldwin-like when words escape his grasp he tends to use punctuation as points of contention.

[2]Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Beacon Press: Boston, 1968.

[3]King, 6.

[4]Jay Electronica, Renaissance Man, Style Wars EP

[5]This is something that is not noticeable from a service read or from an initial perusing of the text. It is only after close reading that it become visible that King is not asking the reader to choose but actually declaring such to be.

[6]King, 17.

[7]King, 17.

[8]King, 18

[9]King, 187.

[10]King, 191.

[11]King, 193.

[12]King, 202.

[13]King, 164.

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Here Is Your Win

I left home today saying a needed a win today. It has been a rough couple of weeks but I have been resilient in my pursuit, nonetheless. Well, instead of doing my normal trip to chapel and community lunch, at Chicago Theological Seminary, I was going to stay home. I was not feeling overly excited about how life was punching my in the mouth with disappointment. Then, I remembered that we were honoring the Muslim sisters and brothers killed by the white supremacist in New Zealand. After getting there late, and being apart of one of the Muslim prayers, we went to community lunch. Before I was getting ready to leave Brian E. Smith called me over to his table and asked me some questions about his son and baseball. He introduced me to a sister at the table and shared with her that I played professional baseball with Dodgers and was currently a Ph.D student. This sister, a Muslim mother of 2 (teenage boy and a younger girl) asked how I went from professional baseball to a Ph.D. student. I shared my journey and I told her that initially, I was not going to come over to the campus today. I preceded to tell her that I left home thinking, “God, I need a win.” Her reply to me was, “Well here is your win: my son! He needed to hear your story.” Now, I am not sure why but she said it was a win for him being there today.

At that table a Black Christian man from America sat with a Muslim woman from Great Britain and shared the grace of God together.

Real community is safe and affirming…we win.

The Frostbitten Rumination

The way that I experienced the cold this morning was unbelievable; I may have been on the pre-stages of hyperthermia as my hands were on fire. As I was removing three days of snow off my wife’s car, in a temperature with a -15 wind chill, I wondered how could a country allow homelessness in such frigid conditions. My 10 minutes in these conditions were just meager, as I was geared up from head to toe, but, I ponder on how do those without such gear survive in such conditions. And, the sad truth, is that we believe we are heroes and saints because we over blankets and warm meals when in actuality they should have had them in the first place.
Thus, the need for philanthropy becomes the quest of the day. Philanthropy is an unjust metaphor for the wealthy to find news to overt paying taxes, that in turn produce means for those in need of blankets.
We live in a broken system where wealth is measured on the backs of the broken. Evidently, there will be a price to pay for exploited the broken and the broken will seize the moment to rebel against the broken system.
By the time I came out of my rumination and pondering, I was convinced that the fires of hell are actually frostbitten events to the body.

Prophetic Urges from Orlando: Part 2

I am Nicholas Wright. I am a heterosexual male, single with no children. I am a black male who grew up in a traditional rural Baptist church. I grew up in Darlington, SC. I was raised in a single parent home, where my father was non-existence, but the community around me stepped in to make sure there was a sure foundation. I understand that the world is controlled by whites and know that in some circles I am seen as an object and not an equal person. I have fought to obtain a master’s degree, but I know that means nothing in some minds. I was raised to love everybody, but those of other faiths, or sexual preferences, but the scales have fallen from my eyes.

Sitting on the anniversary of the massacre of the Emmanuel 9, and peeping over my shoulders,while staring and thinking about the mass murders of my brothers and sisters in Club Pulse four days ago: I am still in utter pain and disbelief that malicious acts such as these are still accruing in 2016. It is all the more heartbreaking that there are some who feel and use the platform of faith, to believe and promote the acceptance of the acts of these mass murders to grasp the attention of those of faith. I cannot explain the amount of ignorance it takes for one to believe that God would promote God’s message through a malicious genocide of a beloved people, –regardless of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation or creed. It is time out for playing god –judging those who so call sin differently than you, and start loving everybody as Christ has loved you.

I understand that the church catholic (the whole church) has been struggling and/or blatantly ignoring dialog with the LGBTQIA community, in order to understand and develop faith fellowship. While the church sits on the sidelines picking and pointing, the LGBTQIA community has taken the mantel of “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) and taken it to a new level.  My life has been transformed by this community. I have seen a true love and worship for God that I have never witnessed from people who claim to be Christians. It is interesting to me that the LGBTQIA community has a burning desire for Christ, while those who are said to represent Christ are trying to oppress and transform them. Who is the true example of Christ?

How many places of worship addressed the attack in Orlando, FL? I am sure there where many churchgoers who wondered like me, why haven’t anyone said anything about this tragedy. What in the hell do we go to church for anymore? This is a question to all bodies of Christ across the world. Do we go just to say we have been, or do we go to actively engage in the matters of the world? It is so easy for everyone to say pray for this, or pray for that, but what happened to our call to be hands here on earth. I am tired of praying and nothing is happening. It is easy to pray because it does not call for us to be engaged with people or out in the struggle, but what good is prayer without human action. It is good to offer your prayers alongside your action. So we are left wondering, what are we called to do during this time? Will we continue to be The Church constantly sleeping during prayer, or an active agent of God here on earth?

When “Homeplace” Becomes Death Space

First published at Rhetoric Race and Religion

It is the great social critic, bell hooks, who uses the space of home as a site of resistance. Within that framework you can also place the church as a place of resistance.  This homeplace, as she so aptly calls it, operates as a place where we can recover from all of the bruises of the world –racism, sexism, classism, ageism. Homeplace was that place of resistance. Church was homeplace for the black Christians.  In the place of safety, the church –our homeplace, where do we find solace to build resistance and community.  bell hooks states in her essay Homeplace: Site of Resistance  that “when a people no longer have the space to construct homeplace, we cannot build a meaningful community of resistance.” The church has been a place where black folks went to simply find refuge and peace as far back as I can remember. Most black Christians took it seriously and looked for any opportunity to invite others to fellowship. Color was not a prerequisite for an invitation.

Now enters the events of June 17, 2015 where nine black people (two fellow alums; another, a classmate from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Dr. Simmons and Clementa Pickney) were murdered in an AME church by a white terrorist, Dylann Roof. This young man was at the bible study and when it was over, opened fire on the congregation in attendance.

charleston shooting

What does evangelism look like in a black world where white terrorism is the norm?

The meaning of church starts to reshape when terror is brought to bear in the lives of the church; the danger that arises from a normal invitation to discipleship avails itself to the potentiality of death.  In the case of Mother Emmanuel AME Church, we see black folks in their homeplace displaying love and fellowship only to suffer such an utter demise. An act of evangelism and fellowship is kidnapped by hate and evil.

This was not the will of God, it was a cowardice act of terrorism that is not foreign to the black church. Church burnings and bombings have taken the lives of many in menial attempts to render blacks humanity irrelevant. Our homeplace has always been on constant alert but for those of my generation we, extended the luxury of the benefit of the doubt when it came to terrorism in the church.  Now, that, our place of resistance has been infiltrated with hate, we are now left in a spin cycle grasping for hope.

As I reflect back on the life of Pastor/Senator Clementa Pickney (the essence of what church and state resembles) and how those on our seminary campus speak about him, I am stuck in a place of inexplicable tiredness. I start to wonder when the mis-valuing of black life will harness the need to make sure it is protected at all cost. As many esteemed him as a soft spoken brother of honor. I remember him as a brother that always packed a smile but stood strong on the shoulders of justice for those trapped in the margins. Just weeks ago the brother in his state senator position, stood to propose a bill that would have outlawed guns in churches…

May the Lord be with us all