“My husband, Martin Luther King Jr., once said, .’We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny…an inescapable network of mutuality….I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be.’ Therefore, I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
— Coretta Scott King, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference Plenary Address, Atlanta, Georgia, 2000
At this time of year, as we commemorate and celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I am reminded once again of his vibrant image of the “inescapable network of mutuality” that links humanity. Dr. King envisioned an inclusive model of social justice because he believed that “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
Though the concept of “social justice” has been defined a number of ways, I have constructed my definition as:
“The concept that local, national, and global communities functionwhere everyone has equal access to and equitable distribution of the rights, benefits, privileges, and resources, and where everyone can live freely unencumbered by social constructions of hierarchical positions of domination and subordinationbased onsocial identities.”
Yes, identities based on race and sexual and gender identities, for example, are very distinct, and the weight of oppression often falls on members of these groups differently. However, many argue that since “race” is an immutable biological trait that people are born with, certain protections must be provided to prevent the dominant group from persecuting minoritized “races.” They also assert that same-sex and both-sex attractions and gender identities and expressions outside the binary are not factors that people are born with but rather “choose” later in life, and therefore, they do not deserve nor require “special rights” for their chosen so-called “life styles.”
I see an underlying assumption to this argument: there are only limited rights to go around, and since there is such a scarcity of rights available, we must divide them among people on the basis of biology. This “scarcity” theory results in marginalized groups competing for what they see as the crumbs of a small and limited pie, rather than joining together to work for a larger and more equitable pie. This argument also fails in that it neither understands nor even acknowledges individuals’ intersecting and multiple identities or multiple positionalities from which they experience the world.