In Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nobel lecture (click here), which is not to be confused with his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he said the following:
This problem of spiritual and moral lag, which constitutes modern man's chief dilemma, expresses itself in three larger problems which grow out of man's ethical infantilism. Each of these problems, while appearing to be separate and isolated, is inextricably bound to the other. I refer to racial injustice, poverty, and war.In his speech in which King expressed opposition to the Vietnam War (click here), he said the following:
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.And the difference between how both many Whites and Conservative Christians approach the problem of racism today and King's approach can be discovered in the two statements above. For with many Whites and Conservative Christians, racism is a separate problem to itself which has been amputated from the other problems that co-exist. Thus, many Whites and Conservative Christians think that racism can be solved without addressing the other problems especially those that are a part of the status quo, such as our materialism, that are maintained by our Capitalist economic system. And here, we must single out our materialism because it is often used by many Whites and Conservative Christians to either prove that what we have been doing is either approved by God or proof that we are special. But King doesn't agree because he sees all of these problems being linked together. Where does he see the connection?
King sees the connection between racism, poverty and materialism, war and militarism in their causes. In the Nobel lecture, King notes that our moral, internal development has fallen far behind our external, technological capabilities. And what measures our moral capabilities is the degree of connection we have with and the concern we have for all others around the world, not just those who live with us and in our communities. That we need to see that we are all brothers and sisters and thus we are connected so that we cannot afford to neglect the suffering of any. Thus, when we, because of our technology, can enrich ourselves with more and more wealth, things, and physical capabilities, but show that we are not able to live as family, we show that our internal lags behind our external.
In his speech against the Vietnam war, we should note what precedes his tying together of racism, materialism, and militarism; it is our choosing to be a thing-oriented society over being a person-oriented society. And King is specific in naming the values of what makes us a thing oriented society: when the things we have and can accumulate are more important than people. And we should note that by including property rights, King is not just referring to tangible things. For King, people are more important than what we are usually most concerned about.
So King has much to say to those who have wealth and power about how to eliminate racism. They, or we, must replace our affinity for things, including profits, with growing connections with and love for all people. And in changing our main concerns and loves, we will not only eliminate racism, we will begin to do away with poverty, which always seems to accompany materialism, and the violence of war. But we should note that if we only target racism as something to eliminate, we will never eliminate it because improving the morality of our decisions targets more than just racism.
King speaks strongly to those with wealth and power and to those who benefit from the status quo. But he also has something to say for those who are struggling against marginalization and oppression and this message is very important in the wake of the past protests conducted by the those in the Occupy Movement and the present protests against racism and police brutality. That one's ends never exceeds one's means. That unless we are not only nonviolent, but also work to persuade and win over our opponents rather than conquer them, we will only be repeating the sins of those who oppress us. This why, in other places, King not only warns us against the use of physical, external violence, but against using internal violence, which can be found in the attitudes of our hearts and spirits and in the words of our mouths. That just because someone is oppressing us, we cannot afford to cut that human connection with them. Certainly if we cannot win them over, then the actions of our opponents must eventually be controlled. But we cannot afford to give into hate and bitterness against those who harm us have because we are all connected. Just as the rich cannot use the poverty of others or the obstacles to the personal accumulation of greater wealth posed by other to deny their familial connections with others, so the oppressive actions of others must never be used by us to deny that they too are our brothers and sisters.
In the end, for as long as poverty, materialism, militarism, and war exist, then we should only expect racism to exist. Why? Because the human values that allow for or produce those states, characteristics, and events will also produce racism. And until we attack the root cause for poverty, materialism, militarism, and war, we will never adequately address our problems with racism. In addition, as this world continues to be plagued by the love of money and tribalism, not only will we fail to control or eliminate racism, we will also fail to survive.