#YourLiberationLibrary EP 09: Why We Can’t Wait

Martin Luther King Jr.’s exposition to Christian moderates on the dangers of an incremental approach to justice

Title: Why We Can’t Wait

Author: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Publisher: Signet Classic edition, 2000

What are the main concerns being addressed?

MLK traces the history of how long African Americans have already been waiting for equality in education, employment, voting rights, housing, the criminal justice system, and lending practices. These are urgent issues of liberty and dignity, of life and death, for millions of people. It is unreasonable, unjust and immoral to delay remedial action, especially for professed Christians. That said, the primary audience for the book is White Christians, particularly those who considered themselves moderates and recommended a more gradual approach to alleviating the suffering caused by racist policies.

Were these concerns clearly stated?

Of course, we’re talking about Dr. Martin Luther “Let freedom ring” King, Jr!

What are the book’s strengths and contributions?

Why We Can’t Wait made the issues of the day very plain to anyone sincerely wanting to know what all the protests and legal battles were about. Dr. King eloquently appeals to the heart and the head. He explains his insistence on nonviolence, yet maintains that some direct action must be taken to make the insufferable conditions visible for all to see.  

What were some good conscience quickening quotes from the book? 

On the urgency of addressing racial justice

“Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper. The storm clouds did not release a ‘gentle rain from heaven,’ but a whirlwind, which has not yet spent its force or attained its full momentum”(2).

On the sluggishness of educational equality

“Nine years after this historic decision [Brown v Board of Education], approximately 9 per cent of southern Negro students were attending integrated schools. If this pace were maintained, it would be the year 2054 before integration in southern schools would be a reality”(4).

On Kennedy’s inaction toward housing discrimination

“When he [Pres. Kennedy] had finally signed the housing order…its terms…revealed a serious weakness in its failure to attack the key problems of discrimination in financing by banks and other institutions”(6).

On police brutality’s roots in slavery

“Armies of officials are clothed in uniform, invested with authority, armed with the instruments of violence and death and conditioned to believe they can intimidate, maim or kill Negros with the same recklessness that once motivated the slaveowner. If one doubts this conclusion, let him search the records and find how rarely in any southern state a police officer has been punished for abusing a Negro”(15).

On the perversion of law and order

“I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dames that block the flow of social progress”(73).

On the genocide of Native Americans

“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race…This longstanding racist ideology has corrupted and diminished our democratic ideals. It is this tangled web of prejudice from which many Americans now seek to liberate themselves, without realizing how deeply it has been woven into their consciousness”(110).

What was so liberating about the book? 

Anyone who claims to support King’s legacy, especially modern conservatives and moderates, need to read Why We Can’t Wait for themselves. If everyone who says they admire and advocate for Dr. King’s ideals read this book and look at how we are still waiting for America to address the same things King was, we could make some meaningful progress.

This book can help us diagnose some of today’s ills and show us how they came to be. It can also help us see through some of the faulty arguments that are still made to obstruct progress. We’ll better recognize when we’re being offered “the same old bone,” being handed to us “on a platter, with courtesy”(6).

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