On January 20, our nation celebrated Martin Luther King Day by-not doing much to be honest. My niece, who is currently in second grade and about to turn 8, hasn’t even heard of him yet, so last Friday night over dinner, we told her about him and his life’s work. There was also a graphic of Dr. King on Google, but that was about it.
Armed with a massive amount of video releases, we chose to mark the occasion by watching a message video: The Help. This led to a discussion about how writing about the situation was a contribution by someone who didn’t march, but still wanted to have an impact (just count on my mom to pound every learning point home-I know I do). For younger viewers, I recommend the short film “Our Friend, Martin”. I recommended it to my older sister for her kids so they could have the information their school hadn’t given to them yet. From the same creative team behind my favorite history series from my youth “Liberty’s Kids”, it uses an all-star cast to tell the events of Dr. King’s life as two middle schoolers time travel through it, and it sensitively deals with his martyrdom. It’s free to watch online, so check it out the minute you can.
On Saturday, Mom and I saw something as an attempt to think about the impact that laws and ignorance of it have on those who need protection the most: “Just Mercy”, which is getting well-deserved excellent reviews. Rather than simply being based on a true story, it recounts the actual events of a lawyer’s mission to ensure justice for Death Row inmates in Alabama, a majority of them black. The fact most of them were black made them not get competent lawyers to help them, the evidence presented was almost never based on facts or their mental capacity, and doomed them to a wait for the electric chair (which is heartbreakingly shown from the viewpoint of the witnesses in one scene).
After seeing Just Mercy, my mom made the point that watching it made her feel the same way as when we saw “Hidden Figures” a few years ago as it was another movie about people being overlooked due to their skin color. It was about the women geniuses in the early days of the space program, doing work that was essential but they were in constant fear of the consequences of being black in the 60s. Both movies we saw with a mixed race audience and although my mom wasn’t even old enough for school when these events happened, she felt complicit somehow, being haunted by the sins of long-gone Americans who should’ve treated their neighbors better. For other viewing, there are a number of episodes of the original Twilight Zone series from the same decade to check out as well as the Jordan Peele film “Get Out”.
All of this viewing allowed me to think of the dangers of bigotry and judging a whole group of people by the actions of a very few facts or often just based on fear and using bigotry as an excuse to do whatever seems needed or convenient at a given time. In many photos of Dr. King and volunteers marching, there were people who weren’t persecuting them-like priests, ministers, and rabbis. These people participating was more than standing with brothers according to the Bible. I think it’s recognizing that a society oppressing one group eventually moves those same tactics to another group, which they may be members of themselves.
With this context, I wrap up with the words of Martin Niemoller, a German who lived in the time of the Nazi party. He at first thought Hitler had good ideas to rebuild Germany and he ended up spending the rest of his life as a Lutheran minister apologizing for his earlier views. His words are often expanded to include various other targets of his time, but the basic thought is always the same: we should protect the rights of those denied protection of the law because if evil is allowed to control, there is no protection for any of us. That was also the point of Jordan Peele’s other film “Us”. Hey, nice title there. As you read this writing of his, say a prayer for the 275,000 people with handicaps or disabilities that were exterminated by the Nazis-innocent people whose rights and very lives weren’t recognized as having any value. As someone with autism, I don’t know what my fate would’ve been; frankly, I don’t even think I want to.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
We now live in a world where technology gives us all a voice. Ask yourselves what you’ll use yours to say.