On Monday and Wednesday of this week, we observed two monumental national celebrations, both of which have significant implications for the moral life of the nation—the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday and the Inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The juxtaposition of these two celebrations invites us to think deeply about two major themes, patriotism and patriarchy.
Last week’s attack on the United States Capitol provided a horrifically flawed understanding of patriotism, rooted in deception and resulting in violent death. On the contrary, through his ministry and social activism, Dr. King offered a portrait of patriotism rooted in truth and the effort to enhance the lives of everyone, irrespective of political allegiance, color, class, or creed.
On April 4, 1967 at New York City’s historic Riverside Church, Dr. King delivered his famous speech “A Time to Break Silence.” In that speech, he courageously called for an end to the Viet Nam War, and this move caused him to become dangerously unpopular, even among groups who previously had supported him. Dr. King showed us how true patriots really act. True patriots use noble values, not violence, to edify and unite not only people of one political party, or of one nation, but all people around the globe.
In that speech, he insisted, “A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.”
The inauguration is another significant moment in the revolution of values and the ongoing struggle against patriarchy. Patriarchy creates social structures and cultural norms where males are valued more than females and gender non-conforming people. On Wednesday, we witnessed for the first time in our nation’s history a woman ascending to the Office of Vice President. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is the biracial daughter of Black and South Asian parents who are immigrants. The intersection of her multiple identities reflects the realities of many of the students who learn in classrooms across the United States and throughout the world.
In her victory speech on November 7, 2020, Vice President-Elect Harris offered these inspiring words to fuel our ongoing efforts to transcend the gravitational pull of patriarchy, especially as our children reach for the stars:
But while I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you simply because they’ve never seen it before.The Hon. Kamala Harris, 49th Vice President of the United States
Real patriots do not shatter glass in the Capitol. They shatter the glass ceilings of unjust gender norms in the culture, thereby moving us closer to exemplifying the belief that all people are created equal.
Brad R. Braxton, Ph.D. is Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at St. Luke’s School in New York, NY.