Monday, January 16, 2012

I Still Have a Dream, Albeit a Redundant One: that We Can Be a Human Family

MLK Jr. had a dream, yes he did. Yes. He. Did. Does that mean he was perfect in all areas of his life? Certainly not. A beloved former Women's Studies professor of mine talked, once, about Martin Luther King's mistreatment and abuse of his wife, Coretta Scott King. She alluded to the idea that his own personal failings in his relationship with his wife (I don't believe she was referring simply to infidelity, I recall that she was specifically referring to domestic violence) were covered up by the Civil Rights and African American communities in order to maintain and protect his image and the power of his message. As a self-identified Feminist, I find it disappointing, though not surprising. Please take note that I am not making any claim of truth or trying to use slander to make a point.

Whether it was physical abuse or cowardly lying or something entirely different - the point is not in the details; it is in the lesson it teaches us about the imperfect nature of humanity. While I am not interested in nor do I have a way of verifying (I have tried) whether or not it is true that Martin Luther King Jr. abused Coretta Scott King, I am interested in the issues and questions it raises about the dimensionality and fallibility of all humans, even the most prophetic and inspiring. It is not out of the question to think that a Great (spiritual and political) Leader might have had his own share of personal struggles and contradictions. He was, in large part, in the business of Ideals. Whenever we're in the business of Ideals, we're also in conflict with that awful, unspeakable phenomenon called Reality. The Civil Rights movement did not initially take women's rights issues under its wing. It was just another level of hierarchical oppression to address that did not fit the agenda of the group in power. In the African American Movement, where women of varying races and ethnicities were both present and active, the voices of power came from those who were next in line to the heir of the European-American throne. Naturally, European American men and African American men were in the best position to uprise and demand equal treatment.

There are so many intricacies to the overriding and underlying hierarchies in which we still today function (or dysfunction, if we are lucky). The larger inequalities and varying relationship dynamics are accompanied by smaller, less-visible and more intricate inequalities and relationship dynamics. A hierarchy of any origin can always be broken down into smaller and smaller segments. If one movement develops out of inequality, oppression and the inhumane treatment of one group of marginalized people, essentially the inherent separatism of that given group will inevitably leave Others (any group of others or individual other) out. Just as a political, humanitarian movement arises out of the institutionalized oppressions of a hierarchical structuring of society; so, too, will the movement mirror, at least to some degree, similar structuring. Some communities (I won't call them groups) aim to work on another de-structure, re-structure, anti-structure, or socialistic plain of interaction in which individuals come together in a Utopian environment in order to seek the common good of all people. It isn't easy to do and often ends up showing its own glimmer of an order of power.  I'm of the mind that we can deconstruct Power until the sun goes down and our universal brain turns to mush; but Power will always be at the center our internal self-oriented survivalist existence. Can we peacefully coexist despite this? It would be nice to think so.

For those of us who can imagine it, even though that's far from living it and doesn't even address the problem of those who cannot or do not wish to imagine it; we can only make small changes in our own lives to have any sort of tangible impact on the world outside of our selves. Within a movement, we can establish a socialist structure with rules and goals that increase our chances of and ability to maintain our ideals. However, what we cannot do (what goes against the very ideals we wish to uphold) is to delude ourselves, diminish or trivialize our constant survivalist urge, mischaracterize or falsify our struggle against our own nature (or, if it isn't our nature, then: what we have been for so long been indoctrinated intentionally or unintentionally into), buy into an ideology of duality (superiority versus inferiority), forget to value introspection and deconstruction, or reject constructive criticism in favor of blind self-inflation. The Cans are endless and exciting; yet the Cannots are vital reminders. Honesty, present in self and communal reflection, is the key to any kind of society that wishes to uphold ideals. That - and accepting all things, all behaviors, as HUMAN.

If we deny parts of ourselves (parts of our human existence - our natural tendencies, the notion that ALL things, even the urge to kill unfortunately, are NATURAL - existing frequently in the natural world). In a movement, all things are present (an entire spectrum of conduct and behavior). In a leader, all things are present (an entire spectrum of conduct and behavior, including contradiction). So it should not surprise or bother us so much that a prophet, such as MLK Jr., would have a secret life (i.e., a life) filled with an array of behaviors, including rage or violence, despite his non-violent rhetoric and non-violent public life. While they may not be the most popular or most widely understood; the most authentic and successful movements are those in which a high degree of transparency (even about the inevitable conflicts and contradictions) exist. (As an aside, I cannot wait to get a copy of Minnie-Bruce Pratt's "Inside the Money Machine!")

A few years ago when I was an undergraduate at Western Illinois University, I participated as a student-member on a panel addressing the intersecting or divergent relationship between the LGBTQIAetc (sexuality?) movement and the Civil Rights movement. I was asked to be on the panel because I was a student-member of UCOSO (University Committee on Sexual Orientation) and a member of Unity (student LGBTQIAetc campus group). Some of the questions posed to us were: Are they comparable, are they compatible, are they equivalent, are they intersecting, are they historically different or the same, are their goals and aims centered on the same principles, do they benefit from one another or detract from one another? The questions posed by the facilitator were intended to spark an audience-led panel forum and dialogue. Each of the panelists responded to a question, and then the facilitator welcomed members of the community (audience, listeners, people in the vicinity) to comment or pose questions in response to the intellectual contributions of the panelists. While I don't remember the specifics of the event, I do remember the a., high level of emotionality present, b., boundary-creating defensiveness, and c., contradictory, hierarchical ("us and them") mentality.

One of the opinions expressed by multiple audience members was this: that the Civil Rights movement cannot be compared to the LGBTQIAetc movement because racial, or ethnic, oppression and oppression on the basis of sexual orientation are, essentially, different. Now thaaaaat's a horse of a different color! The messages (which are probably word-for-word, though I wouldn't bet the life of my big toe on it): "Racism and homophobia are different." "They're not the same. We can't change the color of our skin." "If you're born black, you're born black. Being African American is not a choice. Being gay is a choice." "The histories are so different. Gay and lesbians weren't systematically oppressed in the same way that African Americans have been. The histories are different, you can't compare them." In response, I talked about the issue of "choice." I took a humanist and linguistic approach. As someone with a feminist-humanist perspective, as an English major and Women's Studies minor with a good deal of emotional intelligence and an interest interpersonal relationships, that was the only approach to the political and ethical issues involved that I had to contribute. I was more interested in the emotional response (emotional illogic?) that arose from the dialogue than the content (or lack of content) itself; however, I wished I been more prepared for it so that I would have been able to address the emotional issues via a technical (legal, historical) response in order to better emphasize how the Civil Rights movement and LGBTQIAetc movement can be connected by the way in which they address human rights (or a larger ongoing Human Rights movement).

Perhaps you might scoff at the idea of a Universal Human Rights movement (for fear that in order to do so a World Government would be necessary). I don't know about a World Government, but I do believe in Global Human Rights (NOT as a form of government, but as a movement based in making information accessible, encouraging humane treatment across the boards, offering collaboration across ethnic and other divides, and providing access, above all, to those things). If both movements come down to a basic desire for the law to protect and maintain humane treatment off all citizens (or of all "people"), then the issue of Choice (whether you choose to be non-heterosexual or not) is irrelevant. That's assuming that all human beings deserve to be treated equally under the law. But do laws determine what is what - what is ethical/inethical, what is acceptable/unacceptable? Is there something higher than the law? Is the law morality itself? If not the law, then what? God's word, maybe? (Please, no, because there are a few "Gods" out there. And last time I checked, they were saying different things and making different laws).

If there are to be Global Principles of Ethics for Human Beings, then who will write it and how will it be agreed upon and who will be in charge of it? The use of any rule, or committee assigned to the upholding of some arbitrarily agreed upon set of rules, creates a maze of power establishments and anti-establishments (including uprisings and rebellions). It seems doomed, yet still I support basic human rights. I have a sense of fairness and justice within that seems inherent ("Baby, I was born this way!"). I believe in as much transparency as possible (while also respecting individuals' self-chosen privacy boundaries). I believe in a definition of morality as: behaving with the aim of not doing harm to anyone, treating others as you would have them treat you (as much as it is possible), and making it your intention (!!!) to do as little harm as possible (when harm is necessary). I also know that "harm" is a difficult concept itself. We cannot control who we harm, because people perceive harm uniquely. You may think I am harming you by writing this article. I would argue that I am not harming you. Who is "right?" Who is harming and who is harmed? If I do not intend to harm, I may STILL harm you.

So, to me, morality comes down to intentionality. What happens, though, when you argue that I, Jess Mason McFadden, intended to slander MLK Jr? What happens when I maintain that I did not intend to slander his name?  If I am telling the truth, how will you know? If I am lying, how will you know? I can tell you right now that I know I am telling you the truth (the truth of this ONE moment), but I cannot PROVE to you that it is the truth for me. And so if we cannot have any way of assuring The Truth in words or otherwise, then how can assure or ensure (or insure) anything? How can we trust in "the powers that be" if we cannot trust in ourselves, our words, our truths? It's all (i.e., reality) a mind-game - a language-game. I'd love to say I believe MLK Jr. spoke to a higher truth. I'd like to put him on a pedestal the way I put bell hooks or Oprah Winfrey or Hillary Clinton or whomever on a pedestal. But I know better (at least I think I know better). I deconstruct so much that I can no longer trust in any so-called truth. Still, I live in the moment and am very trusting of people in a day-to-day sense (just not in a global, philosophical sense). I love and admire hooks, Winfrey and Clinton but do I look to them for perfection, to agree with every opinion I have, to solve impossible problems? I don't. Their personal failings (not that I know of any :-) do not diminish the positive impact that they make on this World of Words.

Today we think about histories (and herstories) of oppression. Today we think about the courageous leaders, the Known and the Unknown, that have risen up and used their gifts and worked hard to stand not only against oppression but stand for and speak of (and try their personal best to uphold) the highest and most honorable values conceivable by human beings. I am a leader in my own right (or wrong). I have lead many times in my life when leadership was necessary. And now, I do my best to lead  and assist my daughters (alongside my partner/their other mother) in finding their gifts, being their most authentic selves, and having a positive, loving impact during their time on Earth. During their short lives, they have already had an immense positive, loving impact on Earth. And I am so proud. They, like Martin Luther King (and like you and me) will have their dreams.

Not all dreams are created equal. Some wake us out of our sleep. Some make us want to stay asleep. Some dreams don't require sleep at all. Some come before us. Some come into us. Some leave us. Some aren't welcome or well-received. Some come true and we wish they hadn't. Some never come true but we realize that the chasing and the dream in and of itself is the Living Dream. Some speak to us in tongues. Some make us speak in tongues. Some just bring us to our knees. Some get us knee-deep in shit. Some take us above the clouds. Some come crashing down before they have a chance to fly. Some make us very lonely. Some bring us together. Some drive us to do things we never thought we could do. Some keep us so hard at work that we forget to live. Some make us millionaires. Some end up kicking us in the ass in the end. But there you have it: we all dream.


"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together." King's rendering of Isaiah 40:5

2 comments:

operaerobic said...

It takes two to be redundant, or was that a dance? Perhaps a devil's ball (tango by Double)...

operaerobic said...

My favorite are the dry wet dreams, not sure if that's wet or dry humor (or humour), whatever.