Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Work Still Undone

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It seems impossible to think of Dr. King, and to celebrate his achievements and his legacy, without also thinking of the ways his dream has not yet been fully realized. I want to recommend a few articles and books that have helped me think and feel more complexly about the moment we are living in, regarding racial justice.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (This piece in the New Yorker gives an excellent summation of why this book is an urgent, essential read.) Personally, I’ll just say that one of the (many) astonishing things about Citizen is the way it made me feel how exhausting it must be to resist the casual, thoughtless racial bias that still permeates our culture.

Mosaic” by Tim Seibles. A little taste here (the whole poem is online in Poetry):

In America skin was
where you belonged,     a who
you were     with, a reason

someone might: how — at the

parties     of hands unknown —

astonishing deaths
could meet you.

I’ve been a fan of Seibles’ work for a long time, this poem gathers together all his powers. (I also highly recommend his collection Fast Animal, which, like Citizen, was a finalist for the National Book Award. No one’s voice is quite like Seibles.)

The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I suspect that much of the history in this long essay in The Atlantic is far too familiar to African-Americans. I knew a little about discriminatory housing practices, but I didn’t know how flagrantly and persistently the U.S. government had perpetuated these.

Finally, I’m listening to the audio book of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings while I drive around the state. It’s so potent, so mesmerizing, so unbelievably beautifully written, I sometimes have to turn it off so I can wrest my attention back to the road. She, of course, has (I can’t quite make myself use the past tense) a gorgeously expressive reading style, and to have Angelou’s company on the road in this way is a gift.