Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How Martin Luther King saved my life

  I spent some time this past MLK day, reflecting on the healing powers of community and advocacy. The legacy of Martin Luther King has saved my life numerous times.  The first time I learned about Martin Luther King in elementary school, I saw a recording of his 'I have a Dream' speech and chills shot up my spine. As Dr. King spoke, I felt less like the "different" child that peers and teachers had to work to accept. His speech introduced me to three core  concepts that have been critical to my survival as a queer, disabled woman:

  •  I'm not responsible for the way society views and/or treats my body. Nothing is innately wrong with how I move, I am not ill; it is society's view of my body that is problematic.
  •   I am not the only person who is treated as 'different' or denied opportunities. 
  •  I am not as powerless as society would have me believe. I can create change. 

Of course, at 7 or 8 years old, the way I verbalized or understood the above concepts differed greatly from how I understand them today. However, my young age did not prevent a rudimentary awareness of oppression, community, and advocacy  to be  planted in my psyche. An awareness that would later support me in my internal struggles against learned and oppressive thoughts. Even as a young child,  I  accepted and internalized the various social "truths" told to me about my body on almost a daily basis. By 7 or 8 years old a hole began to grow in my soul, a hole that eventually grew so big, I no longer new myself separate from various forms of validation.  The social 'truths' I accepted had  effectively isolated me from my own body and community. One day, I asked my father if I spoke about the speech  when I came home from school that day. My father remembers that I told him           ' somebody understands me; I'm not alone'.  And that very true and transformative realization of community even in oppression, never left me.  And so the cycle of self - discovery and healing through justice  was able to  begin, even before I fully understood injustice .

 At sixteen years old, I decided that social justice wasmy purpose in life and if I helped future disabled or marginalized youth navigate life with happiness and pride along the way, I would be complete. However, I harbored hatred for my disabled body until my mid twenties. Throughout high school and periods of adulthood, I wouldn't even go out on dates when asked, because I was convinced people would eventually be embarrassed by me. It didn't matter what I knew intellectually about justice, I was still ruled by many learned and oppressive thoughts.Oppression (defined as the 'exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner'), when internalized can create such an isolating soul sickness.

Internalized oppression burned my soul and charred my bones, and as an advocate, I now, feel guilty that I still get wounded.  However even in my most shame full days,  Martin Luther King's legacy always  gave me hope  for change and justice. He taught me that I did not have to accept my marginalization in society, that I could speak truth to power, and  fight for a better life.  Friedrich Nietzsche said 'He who has a why to live can bear almost any how', and it was the ideology and advocacy of Martin Luther King gave me a 'why' to live.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this, I tweeted it!