HRC Blog

MLK Day Reflections: Equality

This post comes from Thelathia “Nikki” Young, Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Bucknell University:

As I reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 20th-century Civil Rights movement, I am reminded that he uncompromisingly claimed the identities of Southern, black, American, and Baptist minister, among others. He neither saw these identities as mutually exclusive nor contradictory.  Instead, they mutually constituted King’s personhood, giving depth and breadth to his social and political aims. It was not in spite of his blackness that he fought for rights as an American, or in spite of his theology that he espoused a liberal ideology.  It was because of those intersections that he sought justice for all.

Justice-making has always required an intersectional lens – one that calls attention to difference and sameness, subjectivities and identities, instantiations and institutions, the personal and the political. King recognized that claiming justice for all people meant eliminating injustice toward each person – not on the basis of sameness and unity only, but also on the basis that our internal and external differences should elicit moral integrity and just relations. I am a scholar-teacher-activist who draws on a model of intersectionality as a way to align with the arch of justice toward which the universe bends. I have learned from King that doing so, in relation to racial and sexual equality, necessitates our recognition that justice is built upon a willingness to acknowledge the fissures as well as the bonds among us.  This means that in relation to the LGBT and African-American communities, mutual constitution, shared and unshared needs, and diversity in religion, must be the bases for liberation, not limitation, in the ongoing fight for justice.

Thelathia “Nikki” Young is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Religion at Bucknell University. She received her doctoral degree in Christian Ethics from Emory University’s Graduate Division of Religion. Her research focuses on ethical issues of race, gender, and sexuality, and particularly emphasizes the ways that black queer communities possess, embody, and enact moral excellence. Dr. Young was the inaugural recipient of HRC’s LGBT Dissertation Scholarship for Religious and Theological Study in 2010.

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