As you get older, you tend to learn that information that’s provided to you as a kid has been “washed and filtered” to distract inquiring minds from delving too deep into subjects and matters that have not been fully vetted or reconciled in the minds of the society as a whole, victims and perpetrators. This is why it is important that families provide a foundational basis of “education” in the home to help refilter or declutter the noise that society provides. (Note that I said family – it is everyone’s job to pass on this informal education.)
Such a mechanism was provided to me by my grandmother, Dolores K. Ansari, my namesake (or initials-sake if that’s a thing) about race. My grandmother grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, a time when Detroit’s neighborhoods were segregated and “passing” was an important advantage to have. She went to school in Hamtramck, a predominantly Polish neighborhood, where she was taunted and fought for being black. She endured this along with a difficult home life. She endured and she conquered.
Her life would continue in this manner throughout the end of her first and only marriage when she was then introduced to the Nation of Islam, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm X. It was at this point when she embraced the teachings of Malcolm X, the religion of the Nation of Islam, and the importance of knowing one’s history, the importance of not only the talented tenth (W.E.B. DuBois) but for the talented tenth to remember their brothers and sisters still lost in the struggle and to throw down the rope to pull them up as well. She also learned the importance of standing up for what one believes in and being willing to fight and die that the group and the next generation, whom all our work should be focused, can continue the fight. The Ultimate Sacrifice. This is what Malcolm X gave to my grandmother and what my grandmother gave to me.
The significance of Malcolm X in the eyes of my grandmother did not diminish the significance of Martin Luther King Jr. My grandmother told me about the time she went to Martin Luther King Jr’s pre-speech in Detroit. She said it was a beautiful speech and it rallied the people. Where Malcolm X preached separation/segregation, self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and love for one own; Martin Luther King Jr, the one taught in school, represented love and that was too far into the future for me. A fight had to occur before we could obtain what Martin Luther King Jr dreamed about. But this was just my understanding at the time, approached with the young fury of adolescence unwilling to bend but without the full ability to understand.
Later I learned of a different Martin Luther King Jr who was not so different than the Malcolm X that I had grown up learning about. In that way as when your childhood fantasies are revealed to be nothing more than your parent(s) putting money under your pillow or that Santa’s gifts happen to be in your grandmother’s closet, my perspective on Martin Luther King Jr. changed to something more human and more understandable. Martin Luther King Jr preached self-reliance, community economics, a political agenda that unified all blacks to take on politicians who pandered, preached, and pimped the black community. The immortal snippet of the “I Have a Dream” Speech was a pacifier for whites moreso than blacks; the dream of integration that would allow the dominant white society to be at ease with itself knowing that the black population would not fight back but “peacefully protest” in non-violent ways drastically different than what we see today. Peaceful protests in the days of Martin Luther King Jr ended in violence, buses burned, jailtime, beatings, deaths, dogs and firehoses being released on the people. Martin Luther King Jr himself experienced death threats, his reputation besmirched, and his message chopped and screwed to feed the community it’s on docile medicine to deflate the furious and fiery nature and desire for justice and respect. King’s speech came at a time when his own authority was waning and his message of peaceful protest, nonviolence, love, and integration were slowly transitioning to something slightly more pro-black, less integration-focused, more militant. It was Martin Luther King Jr’s death that immortalize him and brought him back to the pedestal he once held as a freedom fighter, a civil rights leader, and a mainstay portrait in the living rooms of the black household.
Although Martin Luther King Jr preached love and integration (assimilation if you will), he also understood that sometimes the fight is necessary. In the latter part of his advocacy, he realized this as more militant groups and leaders began to arise to combat society’s even more combative violence towards the civil rights movement. That a peaceful people protesting nonviolently will not protest peacefully forever. That change must come and when it does not, the people will react and respond how they see fit.
“I contend that the cry of “Black Power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”
— Interview with Mike Wallace, 1966
Growing up, Martin Luther King Jr and his message of love and integration did not sit well with my spirit. I grew up feisty, self-confident, and opinionated; all characteristics cultivated by my grandmothers. I learned early on that Martin Luther King Jr and his message was one that had been curated to me by my teachers to keep me quiet and obedient. It wasn’t until later in life when I realized that his real message, the unfiltered truth, called for his silence.
“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
I grew up with Malcolm X as his message resonated with my soul,l but I understand and respect Martin Luther King Jr. I respect his message of loving your brother, knowing black is beautiful, being peaceful but understanding when it’s time to act one must act. But the greatest message that I hold near and dear to my heart is that it does not matter what religion you are, you economic status, your level of education, your gender, at the end of the day I am Black and Black is Beautiful!! It doesn’t matter if I enter a mosque, a church, a synagogue, or stay home and refuse to believe in anything, if I’m smart or dumb, if I’m rich or poor, light skin or dark skin, I’m still Black. Ignoring this fact about who I am does not mean society will ignore it. And when we all learn to love ourselves, to depend and lean on our own resources, when we buy and build with each other, when we unite and tap into the collective force that we all hold hand in hand, we become and are unstoppable. We are in this fight together and you are my brother and sister and I love you. That’s what I think about when I think about Martin Luther King Jr.
MLK JR. Interview with Sander Vancour
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