After reading Dr. King’s “The Time for Freedom Has Come”, I wrote some notes about how social and racial identity affects the activist and her/his perspective toward civil disobedience. After reading only the introduction, that the “new generation of black youth…came to view arrest for the sake of liberation as a mark of honor”, I began to think about the activists I knew in college who annoyed me with their willingness to be “arrested for a cause.” Some took pride in their daring, their police confrontations, their close calls. There was a defiance in their attitude that doesn’t come across in the activists that King describes. And the biggest difference, I believe, is that most of the activists I was remembering were white.

As a white activist, civil disobedience has a whole different meaning. Many white activists have grown up without fear or distrust of police. If I am arrested, I am not worried that I will be treated unfairly because of my race. If I am arrested for an act of civil disobedience, it will probably result in a few hours or maybe a night in a jail cell, charges will most likely be dropped, and life will go on.

How different for the college students King is describing! How vastly different for the illegal immigrants living in the U.S. today! Racial privilege must be considered when reading about and discussing civil disobedience. Disobeying a law with the risk of arrest has different weight for different people. It took me a few paragraphs to appreciate the heavy risk undertaken by black college students in the 60s. It took me a few more paragraphs to think about the risk faced by “illegal” activists today.

Anyone can be a supporter of the rights of immigrants and the movement associated with those rights, but who should be the leaders of the movement? Not a bunch of white people with good jobs and laptops and full, unquestionable citizenship. If the means are as important as the end, the leaders of the immigrant rights movement should be immigrants, legal or otherwise. So what can I do to make it safe for others to speak for themselves, to disobey an unjust law without risking everything?

On another train of thought, I enjoyed this chapter especially because it is a tribute to young people. It honors SNCC activists by describing them as serious and dignified leaders. Rarely are college activists seen in this light today–they’re kids. They’re naive. They’re idealistic. They jump on whatever hip issue comes along.–I have felt that tone directed at me and others, and so King’s tremendous respect for young people was especially refreshing. Dr. King never presents himself as a primary figure or icon, but rather gives credit where it’s due. In that spirit, to conclude this post I’d like to give a shoutout to a fantastic feat of organizing that happened back in 2003—The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, which of course was a deliberate echo of the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement.

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