By: Eric Betts
This Monday past, our nation set aside a moment in our calendar to reflect upon the lessons and legacy of the late minister and leader of the modern freedom struggle of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The content of this article comes from my book, Reconciliation, Geopolitical Perspectives of a Black Theologian. The book addresses the concept of harmonious existence as taught by Dr. King. King often advocated the idea of “brotherhood.” The term familyhood is an African concept identical to King’s philosophy of brotherhood which emphasizes the connectedness and common humanity of all. King taught that the nations of the world, instead of diminishing and marginalizing sets of people in order to prop up themselves, must recognize that humanity is an interconnected family, and each part of the family is important for the race’s survival. The concept of familyhood or the more gender-exclusive term “brotherhood” gives the idea that as human beings we are all interrelated. We bleed the same blood and are created by the same God. It means that the entire human race is interrelated, interconnected, and interdependent. For the blessings of familyhood to be realized, there must be a willingness to look beyond self-interest and self-preservation and recognize that familyhood is in all conflicting parties’ interests.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emphasized the need for a “kind of positive revolution” of peace and familyhood over war. He called for world leaders to rearrange their priorities for the good of humanity. Additionally, King appealed to American leaders to humanize and appreciate the dignity of the poor and those serving in “low wage” occupations, by allowing them to have a voice that is respected in our society. This, according to King, requires a revolution of values that prioritizes a person-oriented society rather than a materialistic thing-oriented society.
Dehumanization through stereotypes or prejudices destroys the natural flow of human existence. The problem of dehumanizing others due to racial differences or economic classism is harmful to both the victims and perpetrators. It is damaging to a nation’s ability to grow and flourish, and perhaps even survive, because we will not learn nor benefit from one another’s background, cultural perspectives, and contributions. Those who are most negatively impacted by racism through psychological trauma often fall short of fulfilling their potential contributions to the larger society. Those who are marginalized due to race or class are not able to make those contributions to their society that will benefit the whole. Racism and classism may cause a society to overlook the potential and expertise of individuals within the oppressed race to the detriment of all.
Dr. King addressed this concept in his book, Where Do We Go From Here, where he uses the term “interdependent” which describes the unique visible or invisible relationships each community holds with each other. Interdependence is the twin of familyhood. He says, “All men are interdependent.” This interdependence is not dependency but is descriptive of the natural connections humans have or should have with each other. In other words, we all need each other in order to advance towards a more ideal and harmonious existence. He further expounds and states, “Every nation is an heir of a vast treasury of ideas and labor to which both the living and the dead of all nations have contributed.” Such potential and expertise undiscovered may possibly be needed at any critical moment for the survival of the entire nation. The failure to recognize human interdependence is detrimental to the human family.
The source of hardline animosity between nations grows more out of fear than hatred. It is true that hatred is real; but hatred is the fruit rather than the root of the problem. If fear can be lessened, the cause of hatred diminishes. Fear can make its object unnecessarily larger than life and more threatening to the beholder. When the fear is gone, the opposing party is no longer viewed as a threat to one’s pride or their existence. The walls of fear that have taken many years to build do not fall overnight. It takes time, effort, and patience.
The alternative for making such an effort to understand the humanity of a perceived enemy is better than the risk of avoiding communication and contact. The more that someone comes into face-to-face contact with an enemy, it can help them see more of the human qualities of that enemy and less of the perceptions that rhetoric has created. It is easier to be disrespectful when one is oceans apart than when sitting around a table together. The more opposing parties sit together, the more they can build mutual understanding and trust between each other. It is better to spend time getting to know each other than to begin immediately to deal with the perplexing issues that divide the parties. The fears must first be dealt with. The ego of each party must be appreciated and protected by the other, and after the time for friendship and understanding has passed, the effort to protect the ego of the other becomes much easier. Too often, competing parties have exaggerated fears based on their wrong perceptions, which leads to the misinterpretation of words and intentions. This fear which creates such suspicion must be overcome if King’s vision of familyhood is to be achieved.
Moreover, preserving and defending the dignity of human neighbors is paramount. When understanding the familyhood of all peoples, and learning how to defend the dignity even of our enemies, we are respecting our own dignity. What is often overlooked is that we are all one gigantic human family with the same desires for dignity and significance in the world.
Humanity is one family, and none are complete until all are complete. When one part of the family is hurting, the entire family suffers. The human family rises and falls together. It is this idea that the talented and iconic author Alex Walker advanced. She said: “We do, in fact, belong here, and have a right to be here, unmolested and protected in our homes, churches, mosques, and schools. We are designed, I believe, as human beings, to instinctively wish to protect and cherish each other. We must be taught—those who are not born sociopathic—how to be stonily merciful.”
When this concept of familyhood is embraced by nations, it will usher in an era of a more natural, harmonious, joyful, and loving co-existence for the entire race where all populations may together function in their God-given dignity which the creator intended.
By: Dr. Eric M. Betts
Curtis Coleman Center for
Religion Leadership and Culture
Athens State University