I do not think of political power as an end. Neither do I think of economic power as an end. They are ingredients in the objective that we seek in life. And I think that end of that objective is a truly brotherly society, the creation of the beloved community~Dr. Martin Luther King, 1966
The purpose of this blog is to offer social justice activists and students contemporaneous commentary on issues of the day. In doing so, I will do my best to bear witness to the moral and spiritual tradition that Martin Luther King articulated. This tradition, I believe, offers social justice activists important insights into the possibilities and challenges of the on-going struggle for social justice in the United States in the 21st Century.
I center my commentary on the United States for two reasons. First, the U.S. is my country. I love many of America’s ideals, but I am also continuously in anguish over its failure to live up to them. I love the diversity and unique cultures of American people, but I am also aware of our insecurities and fears rooted in the nation’s foundational racism. Second, the United States is still the most powerful economic and military power in the world, and all struggles for social justice anywhere in the world must deal with it. Those of us working for social justice in the United States must therefore bring a global perspective to all that we do. So, to say that I center my commentary on the United States is not to exclude the rest of the world. On the contrary, the only hope for peace and justice in the United States lies in American activists’ solidarity with social justice movements the world over.
I firmly believe that all social justice work in the United States must have an anti-racist perspective at the center of its vision. This nation was founded on racism. Capitalism arose in North America through the development of racial chattel slavery. Democracy in the United States has always been conditioned by accommodations to racism. It is not possible to address any issue in this country without dealing with this brutal reality. Those who do oppose racism are the people who, in the words of Dr. King, “call our nation to its higher destiny.”
The foundational principle of this blog is that it is in service to all who work for social justice. Here, social justice is defined not by economic or political equality, but by relationships between people. Dr. King, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, spoke of justice as the social condition that enables all people to be uplifted. He also referenced Martin Buber’s idea that social justice revolves around the understanding that everyone is sacred, what he called an “I/Thou” relationship. This way of defining social justice does not preclude the importance of economic and political equality. Indeed, as Dr. King said (above), these are vital conditions for social justice. But that is what they are: conditions, not the end itself. It is true: if we want to live in a just society, we must treat one another in a just way today.
The growing awareness of intersectionality is an important step towards this concept of social justice. More and more, Americans are grappling with the reality of racial privilege and oppression, class inequality, gender privilege and oppression, heterosexual privilege and queer oppression, Christian privilege and non-Christian oppression, and citizenship privilege and non-citizen oppression. These dynamics are now surfacing on a regular basis. The framework of intersectionality allows us to see the connections between different forms of privilege–the matrix of domination–and the need of the large majority of people to see that they are simultaneously oppressed in some ways and privileged in others. It is here, in the spaces where people find their identities as marginalized people, that the potential to forge the beloved community is at its greatest. For it is in this space that people can readily see the commonalities of their struggles, their collective need for support and their collective power to forge a new world.
To define social justice as the beloved community is a radical departure for me, and a recent one. I will explore my journey towards this understanding of social justice in a future post. This concept will inform everything that will appear on this site. I look forward to engaging with you as we encounter the challenges and possibilities of this dangerous yet exciting time. You are invited to post comments to any or all of my posts, and to repost them if they have meaning for you.