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.