The daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. told a roomful of accomplished African-American women Friday that by tuning out your enemies, you risk becoming like them — a message that didn’t go over well with everyone in the audience.
During the seventh annual Stateswomen for Justice Luncheon and Issues Forum at the National Press Club in northwest D.C., Bernice King made clear that the black community should not fight hate with hate, or they will add to the tension.
“I’m going to say some things that may be a little bit different and controversial, but if anybody knows me, they know that’s who I am,” King said. “I try to push the envelope and make us think at deeper levels as we approach this work that we do in the realm of social, human and civil justice in our world.”
King asked the rhetorical question, “what does Black Lives Matter and President Donald Trump have in common?”
“What they have in common is that they have awakened us to our deep divisions,” she said. “That in many respects we have tried to avoid, ignore and deny. I’m not sure about you but I am very concerned about the state of America right now.”
King said she is troubled by the deep polarization of the country and that it’s possibly worsening.
“If there is anything Dr. King tried to teach us was how to create a world where we can coexist with all of our different ideologies,” she said. “My father did not live in the 21st century, he was 32 years shy, but what he left us, I believe, was an important blueprint that we cannot escape.
“He gave us plans and he gave us strategy in his book ‘Where Do We Go From Here,’” King said. “He asked, is it going to be chaos or is it going to be community? That’s a question we need to ask today: Where do we go from this distinct moment in time in America?”
King said there are fundamental things to consider when groups talk about building and creating an agenda for justice including individuals who value all races.
“You might be saying, ‘Bernice, we understand that in the African-American community and in the African-American tradition,’ but I want to challenge us because a lot of times when we do the work of justice we have a tendency to think narrowly,” she said. “We have to make sure we don’t create a scenario where we are creating justice for one group of people and an injustice for another group of people.”
King said her second point would be the most controversial of them all.
“I don’t think we have a justice, peace, or poverty problem,” she said. “I think we have a love for humanity problem, because when you love humanity, you always end up on the side of what’s righteous.
“When we think about justice we have to think about even those that don’t agree with us or align with our beliefs at the end of the day they are still apart of our humanity,” she said.
King said the movement needs people who value courageous conversation, respectful discourse and keen listening.
“This is a climate that often becomes very hostile and intense, but there has to be some people willing to rise above the fray and engage in conversations with people who see a little bit differently and understand a little bit differently.”
Julianne Malveaux, economist and panelist at the forum, vehemently disagreed with King.
“Donald Trump is a snake and I ain’t fattening no frogs about it,” she said. “As Maya Angelou said, when people show you who they are, believe them. So while we can talk as much kumbaya as we want to here is what I know, which has nothing to do with [Trump].
“I know that African-American unemployment rates are twice that of whites,” Malveaux said. “This has been the case since 1950-something. This is not a 45 thing, Obama thing, Clinton, little Bush, big Bush thing. It is the nature of the strained relationship African-American people have with this economy.”
Malveaux said those who know better expects conditions to worsen under Trump’s presidency.
“In order for us to have a conversation, Bernice, it has to start with predatory capitalism and nobody in his Cabinet wants to have that conversation,” she said to King.
Malveaux said predatory capitalism has exploited American’s differences not freedom fighters or activist.
“My sister I love your kumbaya, but you know what, I am 63 years old, I am a baby Panther, and I am a cynic at this point,” Malveaux said. “In any case, I am resisting, fighting, putting it out there every single day.
“It’s important for us to understand that all the good Dr. King has had in him we have seen erosion of good in the years since he was assassinated,” she said.
Bernice King contested no one should be quiet about injustices, but be swift to hear and slow to speak.
“We’re not hearing each other right now, because we are too intent on getting our point across,” King said. “The reality is we have to stay focused on the injustice and realize that that individual is a part of our humanity.”