Why Civil Rights Can't Wait: Dr. King's Indictment of the White Moderate
"I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate...who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, excerpted from Dr. King's book Why We Can't Wait
This excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s seminal letter "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is timely, as it reveals an even more dangerous force than violent oppression—the normalization of violence itself. It’s important to note that Dr. King indicts the “white moderate” specifically because they apathetically ask the oppressed “to wait,” as if the Civil Rights Movement was not an issue of basic human rights. Their calls for order over justice show the lack of sympathy to the fact that these protests are about issues that terrorize an entire culture, issues which for some people may be life or death.
This passage ultimately teaches us the important lesson that when you are in a position of power, you must use it to empower. Confrontation is uncomfortable, but it’s necessary. When civil rights are at stake, standing up and speaking out is not optional—it's a duty that is necessary to ensure the protection of justice and human rights for all people and to give a voice to the issues of the unheard.
It's My America Too
“I am America. I am the part you won't recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”
This quote resonates with me because it reminds me of racial and ethnical division that I feel when people talk about goals, objectives, and aspirations that some races cannot achieve. I always have to remind myself that America isn’t a white man’s face. America is a melting pot of wonderful colors and cultures.
I am America too
I am the unrecognizable, unwanted, and understated part of it
The lump that was uninvited to the melting pot party
I am the hidden national gem that even treasure hunters dare not to touch
Because I am the paragon of dark, dirty coal
Before I turn into a shining diamond that gleams with the sunlight
But I won't change just for you
Remember that America
Besides, you'll have to get used to me too
You'll have to acknowledge me when I rise above ignorance
You'll have to clap for me when you see me winning on TV
You'll have to praise me when I found my way out of the dirt
That you have thrown and buried me violently under
I am the reason why people are wide awake in their sleep
Just to remember in awe my tan brown skin
Millions of faithful followers shout in glee
Who else has the confidence I radiate from being free?
My name is the reason why people whisper in the streets
To hear the lyrical beautiful name my mother passed down to me
Tell them that I won't back down
Tell them I won't die without a legacy
Tell them children like me won't stop to raise their voice
Why won't you tell them?
That I am America too.
Beautiful, free, confident; get used to me.
"Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated." - Coretta Scott King
The quote discusses that hate affects the hater more than the hated. The poem is depicting my life without my father and my resentment towards him because of it and concludes with the effect hating him has had on me with regard to how I pursue love and relationships.
My Dad wasn’t there when I took my first steps
Into the world that would turn a blind eye as I was pushed down the steps
My Dad never taught me how to brush my teeth
The teeth that dug into my lips as I bit back the tears caused by their profanities bombarding my ears
My Dad never taught me how to ride a bike
The bike that I’d to ride away from the boys who’d tried to stab me in the alley
My Dad never taught me how to tie my shoe
Shoes that smacked against the cracks in the asphalt as I ran from the boys who told my what’s coming is my fault
My Dad never tucked me in at night
Into the bed that would soon turn into my workplace
My Dad was in jail when I spoke my first words
Words I’d use for the rest of my life as a shield against their fists
My Dad never read stories to me
Stories I concoct in order to explain the bruises to my mom
My Dad never taught me how to mow the lawn
The lawn that would so often collide with my face when my voice’s octave was a bit too high
My dad never showed me how to play ball
Balls I’d dodge in P.E. when I was the last one picked on the team
My Dad wasn’t there to teach me control
Control the rage that boiled inside of me scratching at my throat until I’d finally scream
My Dad never showed me he loved me
Love I looked for in Daddies with deep pockets and bloodshot eye sockets.
My Dad doesn’t hug me
Hugs I replace with sacred rituals of penetration and ejaculation
My never taught me how to fight
Fight against the hatred for humanity that had festered beneath my petite prepubescent frame
But I don’t have many issues with my Dad, just the one
My Daddies love me way more than my Dad loves his son
A Memory of Books
“The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.” – Mary McLeod Bethune
This quote resonates with me because it reminded me of the first time I was able to read a book in my newfound language, English. The satisfaction and pride, which is inherent in this quote, accurately resembles the feelings of resurrection I got after I finally discovered what the back cover of an English book looked like. I remember with all clarity the instance when my fingertips grasped the last page of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and my eyes conspicuously wandered around the foreseeable light shed under the words THE END. The contact between my fingertips and the coarse pages, felt as if my mind had, after a long time, touched my pride.
All the memories of failure, incomplete assignments, and bewildered faces after long lectures, began to fade and instead the long hours glancing and highlighting words in the dictionary, as I struggled to translate them and memorize them, came back. This elated me and gave me the much recovery I needed to believe, once again, that I was able to attain my goals. This first exhilarating experience, only opened my metaphorical door to more moments like this. Soon books couldn’t keep up with my avid reading periods, one and then two books per week…Reading opened my mind not only to an expanded vocabulary, but also it showed me the possibility to dream with your eyes open. I could soar the skies in a broom, I could attend Hogwarts, travel around the little streets in Rome remembering every name. It felt great to know that I could do anything. It felt as if with my eyes and my willing fingers I could turn each page gently, and be anywhere I wanted.
“You're either part of the solution or part of the problem.” - (Leroy) Eldridge Cleaver
In my poem I try to address institutionalized racism and clearly contrasting it with ethically correct behavior. This connects to the quote, which clearly states that someone is either actively helping or making the situation worse. This contrasting inspired the format I took for my poem and the way I addressed the topic.
Part of the Problem
Inaction indicates indifference
In instances of injustice, in which
Inefficient and deeply flawed systems
Ingrained and inscribed with institutions
Of inconceivably inhumane beliefs move
From isolation to infiltration into Inexperienced, infant minds.
Exemplary examples of unexpected,
Or even unprecedented, ethical etiquette
Emerge, but rarely often enough.
Excluding these anomalies of what
should be expected, everything remains
Execrable almost entirely.
A Poet that Inspires All
“If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.” - Maya Angelou
Our society has made quitting on dreams or aspirations the norm. Many times quitting looks like the easier route. During the civil rights movement there were many times when activist like Maya Angelou felt discouraged. Living in a time of institutionalized racism, she was still able to inspire others to continue to fight for their civil rights. The quote inspires me to not take the easier path in life. There are always going to be obstacles that will make giving up the simpler choice. After reading this quote, I felt motivated to not give up when things get tough. When applying to college, there were times I felt like my academic profile was not good enough. Even after getting accepted to a few universities, I still convinced myself that my top school wouldn’t accept me because I was not good enough. It wasn’t until after I read the quote, I changed my perspective about myself that I realized that if I continued to work vigorously that I could get to any school. Maya Angelou’s quote continues to inspire me to change my perspective of the situation instead of being negative and optimistic and strive for my goals no matter how high.
“Bringing the gifts that my
I am the dream and the hope
of the slave.
The quote and the poem are connected by the passion that both the African American poet and I have for standing up for what is right. The stanza that contains the repetition “I rise” inspired me to write this poem because I felt the emotion she put behind those three lines. I felt the passion she was trying to portray, and her message hit
me deep in my soul.
We stand for all and fall for many
We all rise from the grave,
In order to help those who
Slave through the hardships
In order to bring an end to
An anxiety of your life not
We live in a simple-minded
A society that is ruled by
Where we work, work, and
Because our leaders are like
a greedy clerk,
For they prefer money to
We rise to fight segregation,
We rise to fight for a better
We rise to fight inequality,
We fight to bring equality,
For we understand the true
value of sharing.
We let freedom ring
Through the ears of those who
Afraid to pick up the phone,
Afraid to fight for others,
Afraid to let their voices be
Yet there are those who pick
up to the call,
Those who are ready to fight
My sense of identity is persecuted with the American culture and my Filipino roots. Which culture should I follow? Who do I listen to? Questions always swirl in my head on who I should act like – an obedient young Filipina or an independent, outspoken American?
This quote from Toni Morrison’s writing, “Song of Solomon,” has been a guide for me to hold onto my beliefs. I want to be a Filipina. I want to be an American. I want to pursue what I believe in. I want to pursue what I think is morale. So once I lay on my deathbed, my name will leave with me.
Find Your Name
From the second that you’re in this world,
They tell you what is “fair”,
The questions you’re allowed to ask,
And the ones you wouldn’t dare,
Placed on the path they’ve paved for you
Life pushes you along,
Without the chance to stop and think,
If it’s right where you belong,
But beyond your pathway’s edges,
Is where living really starts,
A land of risks and danger,
And a land of broken hearts,
They’ll tell you - you should fear this land,
That there’s no good there at all,
As they live their lives as they’ve been taught,
Behind expectation’s wall,
But the best people you will ever meet,
Have wandered off their track,
Found themselves along the way,
And have no need to wander back,
So forget about life’s road map,
Follow your heart at any cost,
For you’ll never truly find yourself,
If you’re too scared to get lost.
Find your name.
Defined by Myself
"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations." -Dr. Mae Jemison
This quote inspires me because it reminds me to never follow the crowd. I have decided that it’s best to live up to my own aspirations and set my own limitations rather than be guided by figures in my life that believe they’re “doing the best for me.” Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut, was brought down my many people before she rose up to the challenge. In a period of sexism as well as as racism, this woman excelled and met the standards of your average “white male”.
Dr. Mae Jemison reminds me that other’s limitations do not match mine, so I should inquire people to not set them for me. I believe that it’d be a hindrance to my productivity if someone were to expect me to be something that I’m not. Dr. Jemison, in this quote, explains that others have tried to confine her to a bubble of restrictions. She worked hard to make sure to not conform to this bubble.
People will try to bring you down. I feel as though it is in our human nature to envy the success of others. Jemison explains that this envy should be viewed as inspiration for the bigger things that could be accomplished.
Education Opens Dreams
Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.
By looking at the current state of society it is evident that education is one of the biggest factors that dictates success in life. This quote deeply resonates with me since it embodies all that I know and all that I hope for in the US. My entire life, so far, has been dedicated to learning to live a good life in the future. With regard to civil rights, all advances in Civil Rights have been made through valid arguments from people who have the power to resonate with the populace.
Looking at one of the great civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr, his educated arguments in “Letter to a Birmingham Jail” were able to unite the civil rights movement and show the barbarity of the cruel police treatment. Education is the one thing that humans can invest in that doesn’t give wealth, doesn’t give power, but provides the potential to achieve and improve. This power to achieve and improve is the most powerful thing that humanity has. The power to create bridges, work together, solve problems, and unite each other enables civilizations to grow and flourish.
The opposite then is also true. Without education, the world suffers like a withered flower seeking for a single drop of liquid to stay alive a while longer. Education is truly the passport to the future, for those who lack it will be on the other side of the border wall.
Little, Malcolm. “Malcolm X’s Speech at the Founding Rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity.” Organization of Afro-American Unity, 28 June 1964, Audubon Ballroom, New York, NY. Speech.