“Until the Lion learns to speak, the tales of hunting will be weak”
An African proverb and song by my favorite artist, K’naan, who escaped the war in Somalia and emigrated to Canada with his mother as an adolescent. A refugee who enriches the world with songs about issues in countries we as Americans are so removed from.
This proverb refers specifically to the oppressed class in Africa. The people who did not and in many places, still don’t have the opportunity to attend school and learn to read, write or communicate with the outside world. Without the lion being able to tell his story, we are left with the hunter’s tale of glory alone.
I consider K’naan to be one of the most talented wordsmiths of our time, and while he is not the originator of the proverb, the words that accompany it in this particular song speak the strongest truth. This proverb especially lingered in my mind recently after I saw a post by the Harris County Republican Party over MLK Day. I have had to process the sheer ridiculousness of it all and questioned criticizing the HCRP, but I made a promise that I would hold people accountable for their words. The full post reads,
“On this day, we remember Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed that deeply held values and morals, along with the principles of self-reliance, integrity and faith in God would inevitably lead black Americans to the blessings of liberty, equality and enfranchisement in the American dream. He believed that his people would triumph over the forces of racism, hatred and bigotry. He dreamed that his legacy would be one in which children, including his own would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
At a time when King and those closest to him faced death threats daily, King stood his ground against those who sought to use the power of government to silence him, and against those who used the threat of violence to intimidate him. King had the courage to stand up for the inherent worth and dignity of the individual, and understood well the power of the people rise up and speak truth to power.
Dr. King was for a time the voice of the American conscience, and that voice carries still today. Most of all, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy shines brightest and most fiercely in the voices of the Republican Party. It is in the voices of leaders who seek liberty for the people – for the right to practice faith, for the right to open a business, for the right to live without fear of a tyrannical government. His dream lives on in the legacy of those black children who have grown to add their voices to the American chorus. Voices of leadership, of hope, and of triumph over adversity.”
I’ve highlighted the part I find most humorous, in a deeply agitating way. I’m also making an educated guess that whoever published this particular post has not read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”…
As we all know, 45 has gone on his racist tirades on Twitter, at his rallies, at press conferences and just about anywhere he pleases. He took aim at the black athletes who kneeled for the national anthem to protest racial injustice in our country. He vehemently spread the “birther” movement against President Obama. He advocated for bringing the death penalty back in the case of the Central Park Five, who were exonerated by DNA evidence, yet still believes these men to be guilty to this day. And of course, the “shithole” comment about Haiti and African countries 4 days before MLK Day.
What enrages me the most about this post from the HCRP is the fact that they put 45 up on a pedestal knowing he has said all of these vulgar and atrocious remarks, without criticism, then has the gall to post about how MLK’s legacy shines brightest within their own party. The best part about all of this is the post literally right before the MLK day post criticizing Project Orange, an initiative headed by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Harris County Tax Office, and Houston Justice to help qualified incarcerated citizens register to vote- 52% of the 8,000 inmates in the Harris County Jail are African American. You really can’t make this stuff up.
Now to make one thing VERY clear, I do not consider all Republicans or even the HCRP to be racist. I am simply calling out the very callousness and inconsistency of this particular local group (and 45.) If MLK Jr. was alive today, I have no doubt 45 would treat him no differently than Colin Kaepernick and the fellow athletes who knelt, and still kneel, in solidarity.
To celebrate the legacy of Dr. King, I was honored to walk in the Texas City MLK Day Parade supporting Adrienne Bell for Congressional District 14 with some wonderful friends and fellow Democrats. We spent the remainder of the morning after the parade registering voters and enjoying the company of the local community. There were several young men and women who brought their horses out for the occasion and gave the kids rides for hours outside of the church we gathered at.
My favorite part of the day was sitting down with a woman who walked with Dr. King in Selma. She told us about how she marched to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but could not actually cross. She told us about the scars she still carries from when she was a young black woman as the police set dogs upon the marchers, among other forms of violence. I was stunned that someone who marched for civil rights with Dr. King was sitting in front of me telling one of the most important moments in our nation’s history. Someone who experienced vile hate and prejudice from an ugly moment in time and who is still active in her community carrying on Dr. King’s legacy of freedom, liberty and justice for all. That fight is far from over.
As a white Texan woman, I cannot say that I have experienced racial injustice myself. However, I have seen it from another perspective. Growing up in a deeply conservative suburb, racism was nothing too out of the ordinary from some of those around me. It wasn’t always blatant and usually never intended to be confrontational, but it was a comfortable racism. These people would usually assume that I, a white female, would also share these sentiments. I never did, and began to question these thoughts.
I was 5 years old when Will Smith’s song, “Getting Jiggy wit it” was released. As a small child, I loved it, it was catchy and poppy and I would sing along to the only parts I knew. But for some reason, an adult family member told me one day, “Quit singing that N word music.” I knew that was a bad word. I knew it was a mean name to call someone. And even worse, I realized someone in my own family didn’t care that it was bad. That was a horrible feeling, and it was the first time I realized that there are people out there who still hold hate in their hearts over something as minute as the color of one’s skin.
This all circles back to the proverb above. Until the lion learns to speak, the tales of hunting will be weak. Until we listen to those who have yet to tell their story, we do not have the full and accurate recollection. Until we truly understand that oppression and racism are still very much alive and affecting lives and futures on a daily basis, we cannot begin to bridge the divide that exists in our world. As Caucasian Americans, we have to step beyond our experiences and listen to those who have dealt with and still deal with these issues. I believe we can fix this together, but we cannot do that while criticizing our brothers and sisters over things we have never experienced. I recognize that I will never understand the full extent of what others might face. The first step we all need to take is a simple one. Listen. Those of us who have already taken that step, should listen more. Our world is so much more valuable when we can understand one another on deeper levels and work together to create a more perfect union. We are far from a perfect country, but we get better every single day. Through ugliness and oppression, love rises.
I hope everyone who attended the Women’s March, and even those that didn’t, also attend the March for Black Women on March 3rd. We are all in this together, and as a proud feminist, I march for all people on our path toward equality. I recognize the problems that face the black community, and especially black women. Texas recognizes that black women are the most at risk to die in their first year after childbirth, but this has yet to be addressed specifically. Greg Abbott has said he is “committed to doing everything we can to combat the maternal mortality rate,” but has ignored the specific recommendations of the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force to expand access to health care for women.
The time has come to hold Greg Abbott and his party accountable and to uphold the dream that Dr. King and so many others fought and died for.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” -MLK