I have mixed emotions about Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For me, it’s a time of hopeful celebration — but also of cautionary vigilance. I celebrate an extraordinary man of courage and conviction and his remarkable achievements and hope that I can behave in a manner that honors his sacrifices. And while Dr. King still has his delusional detractors, who have a dream of dismissing his impact on history, it’s not them I worry about.
Why? Because it’s tempting to use this day as a cultural canonization of the man through well-meaning speeches rather than as a call to practice his teachings through direct action.
For some, the fact that we have Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a confirmation that the war has been won, that racism has been eliminated. That we have overcome. But we have to look at the civil rights movement like antibiotics: Just because some of the symptoms of racism are clearing up, you don’t stop taking the medicine or the malady returns even stronger than before. Recent events make clear that the disease of racism is still infecting our culture and that Martin Luther King Jr. Day needs to be a rallying cry to continue fighting the disease rather than just a pat on the back for what’s been accomplished.