A crowd of hundreds gathered on the University of Texas’ East Mall this morning to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event’s speakers spoke to King’s legacy, but also emphasized the work remaining to be done in the struggle for equality.
Several speakers were on hand, including State Representative Dawnna Dukes, UT president William Powers, and more. But the most provocative speech of the morning came from Omi Osun Joni Jones, Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance and of African and African Diaspora Studies, who shared her “five rules” for allies in the struggle against racism, sexism, and homophobia.
- Rule One: “Do not tell anyone, in any oppressed group, to be patient.”
Quoting King’s famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” Jones said “we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.” She then rhetorically asked, “Do you think that the University of Texas has doubled the number of black faculty on campus since 2001 because we were all patient?”
- Rule Two: “Be loud, and crazy, so Black folk won’t have to be.”
“This does not mean being reckless,” Jones emphasized. But "speaking up does mean being willing to relinquish some piece of privilege in order to create justice. Allies step up. They do the work that has left others depleted and weary.”
- Rule Three: “Allies know that it is not sufficient to be liberal.”
Jones noted that King’s work required him to confront and work outside of existing power structures. Again, quoting from King’s Birmingham letter: “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who is more devoted to order than to justice.”
- Rule Four: “Recognize the new racism, the new sexism, the old homophiobia.”
“I have been humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading white, and colored,” Jones quoted King as saying. “What are the nagging signs in 2012?,” she asked.
- Rule Five: “When called out about your racism, sexism and homophiobia, don’t cower in embarrassment. Don’t cry … Be grateful that someone took the time to expose yours …. Expose is a step towards freedom.”
State Representative Dukes gave a more traditional speech. Flanked by several other politicians, including state Representatives Donna Howard and Elliott Naishtat, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, Dukes updated King’s concerns for present day America, noting “the rift between the 1% and those of us who identify with the 99% grows larger by the day.”