The language of hate

Honoring MLK?

January has drawn to a close and now that the obligatory homage to Martin Luther King, Jr. has subsided, I consider the words “Keep Hatin’” that I saw plastered in large letters across the back window of a pickup truck, a message that reverberated loud and clear from the supposedly liberal bastion of Gainesville, Florida. In his final speech on April 3rd, 1968, Dr. King focused on the struggle against inequality and regarded the threats made against him, concluding in part: “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.” There is no mountaintop in sight here, yet the mountainous barrier that blocks freedom from inequality and oppression has not been scaled here or anywhere across this country.

Around America the month of pretending to care about Black history is just beginning, and now after the holiday that celebrates MLK is over, the MLK boulevards, streets and avenues across the country can be forgotten, once again hidden beneath the litter and debris of life. But as I thought about the Keep Hatin’ message, I remembered the words written by Tony Morrison in the slim volume The Noble Lecture In Literature, 1993. Morrison speaks of how “Oppressive language does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux language of mindless media; …it must be rejected, altered and exposed.” (16)

It is unfortunate that I am not surprised at the hate and the closed-mindedness of those who boldly declare their hatred to the world, and I am conscious about how my own bumper sticker: “Do you keep hearing crazy voices? Turn off Fox News.” might appear offensive to some, yet it is apparent that others don’t worry how their boldly plastered opinions appear to others. It is ironic that many of these displays are on vehicles that appear to be owned by the very people who would be assisted by the policies they object to. A rattletrap car filling up with gas that proclaims distaste for “Obamacare” seems to be owned by a person who could really benefit by the cheaper cost of medical insurance and who apparently doesn’t mind the insurance companies telling him what medical care he can get but who doesn’t want the government to tell him what to do. The driver who wants to Keep Hatin’ and the one who, with even larger letters on the back of his truck declares: “Obama Sucks” may in fact be underpaid workers struggling to make payments on those huge trucks and to buy gas. It is people like these who will fight against the unions and the raising of the minimum wage that would benefit them as well.

I am not surprised, but I am disturbed because these messages reflect how easy it is not to think for oneself, to allow another, be it a politician, a religious leader, an educator, the media, or a friend to think for you. Martin Luther King saw oppression and today advocates for the oppressed continue the climb to the mountaintop, but the fact remains that so many people would prefer to hide behind the façade of language that limits knowledge and that keeps the barriers in place for those facing oppression, whether racial, sexual orientation, poverty or any of the other ways people are oppressed.

February is here with Valentine’s Day as a day to declare love to one another. So how do we go from Hatin’ to Lovin’? No, I don’t love everyone and I even hate some people, not because they’re different or have different beliefs but because they tend not to think for themselves. For many in America it seems easier to maintain the status quo of an old system that is no longer valid in today’s world. Yet when people allow others to tell them what to think, then it is without their knowledge that they will be as oppressed as those they want to Keep Hatin’.

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