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Martin Luther King

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the right and wrong ways of dealing with this. “The Lesson,” by Toni Cade Bambara, does not necessarily have to do with the racial oppression King describes, as Bambara tells a short story expressing how a group of children living in poverty view the richer lifestyle, but some of King‟s categories of dealing with oppression can be seen in how Bambara‟s characters react to what they are observing.
At the start of Bambara‟s “The Lesson,” Sylvia expresses her dislike and almost hatred for Miss Moore. This is made obvious by many of the statements she makes when introducing the characters and story: “I‟m really hating this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree,” and “though I never talk to her . . . I wouldn‟t give the bitch that satisfaction.” Hatred is often the first step in acting violently, one of King‟s ways of meeting oppression. While Sylvia, or anyone else at any time during the story, does not actually act violently, their thoughts and feelings show signs of possible violence in the future. Not only do Sylvia and the children show a tendency of hatred towards Miss Moore, but to each other as well—especially aimed at Mercedes. The reader can gather that Mercedes‟s family has a little more money than the rest of them and Mercedes has no problem rubbing that fact in. When standing outside the store, Mercedes brags that her father would buy her the expensive toy boat if she wanted it, and Rosie responds by showing her some hostility: “Your father, my ass.” While the little disputes between the children are very likely just immaturity and they will grow out of it, the story also is able to show what the children think about the issue of a rich vs. poor lifestyle. Hatred/violence is not the only category present in the story prior to the entrance of the store. The children show acquiescence in how they accept the fact that they are poor and assume things will always be that way for them just because that is how things are. The only example of nonviolent resistance up to this point is from Miss Moore, as she makes the conscious choice to try to educate acquiescent children so they can make a change in their lives.
When the group of children enters the store and see the high prices, they have more mixed thoughts and unbelief of the costs of different objects than reacting using the categories Martin Luther Jr. described in “The Ways of Meeting Oppression.” However, these thoughts can be placed in one of the categories based on how the person might be inclined to react in the future. One example of the violence category being noticeable, yet not acted upon, is when Sugar runs her finger along the toy boat and Sylvia begins to feel jealous. The story reads, “I want to hit her. Maybe not her, but I sure want to punch somebody in the mouth.” She also shows some non-acted-upon violence when she begins to get angry and demands, “Whatcha bring us here for Miss Moore?” But then she changes to nonviolent resistance when she realizes she does not want to give Miss Moore the satisfaction of knowing she made her mad; Sylva begins to looked bored and then just says, “Let‟s go,” and they all walk out of the store. I am classifying this as nonviolent resistance because she is finding a way to resist against both Miss Moore and the injustice she sees of the high priced products, though others may see it as getting angry and walking away from the situation. There really are no signs of acquiescence while the group is in the store.
There are many thoughts racing through the children‟s heads after they leave the store. Because of what they saw, the wheels in their heads start turning and it is very possible nonviolent resistance will come from this experience, especially when Miss Moore says, “But is doesn‟t necessarily have to be that way. Wake up and demand [your] share of the pie.” Beginning to understand what is going on is the first step to nonviolent resistance, which Sugar and Sylvia do—or at least think about; Sugar starts piecing things together while talking to Miss Moore at the end of the story, and Sylvia, after they leave. The reader is left wondering how the children are going to react to the experience.
Even though at first glance it may be difficult for someone to understand how King‟s writing on dealing with racial oppression can be applied to Bambara‟s short story on the lives of the poor vs. rich, there are actually many ways in wihch the actions and thoughts of the people in the second are related to the categories King describes. There are examples of all three categories: acquiescence, violence/hatred, and nonviolent resistance, though they are more feelings that could turn into one of these than actual reactions. In our daily lives, we can base our actions on King‟s concepts of dealing with oppression—even if it is not racial—as can be observed from analyzing Bambara‟s story.
Consider these first sentences of the body paragraphs in another essay. What organizational pattern did this writer use?
Oppression, mostly in the form of socio-economic disadvantage, is met most often with violence and hatred in Bambara‟s story.
The oppression throughout the story is also met with acquiescence, adjusting to the oppressing environment in which they live.
The final way in which King says people deal with oppression is nonviolent resistance, which is nearly non-existent in Bambara‟s story.
Evaluate these conclusions from four other papers:
1. In conclusion, Martin Luther King, Jr., helped many people with the way they deal with racial discrimination. In this story we applied acquiescence, violent resistance, and nonviolent resistance, as ways of meeting oppression.
2. Martin Luther King, Jr.‟s “The Ways of Meeting Oppression” can be applied to Toni Cade Bambara‟s story “The Lesson.”
3. King would like the fact that the teacher is trying to help the students to be nonviolent, but he would be disappointed with how acquiescent the students are. Even more, King would be upset about how violent the children are; this goes against everything that King stood for. The students need a good teacher like Miss Moore, to help them learn what they can do to be resistant without violence.
4. King probably would be disappointed in everyone, especially Sylvia, for their reactions. Yes, they had some nonviolent resistance and many acquiescence-type reactions, but they also had violent reactions. King says that violence “creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers” and that acquiescence “is the way of the coward” (380). To gain respect, you have to use nonviolent resistance. It is „a sublime example of courage for generations yet unborn” (381).
This is one of the better examples I have:
Dr. Martin Luther King summarized the ways of meeting oppression into three categories: acquiescence, aggression, and nonviolent resistance. In “The Lesson,” by Toni Cade Bambara, these three categories are displayed. Some examples are so subtle that they are easily overlooked. However, if one is looking closely, the overlap is quite clear.
The vast differences in the socio-economic background of the white people and the children and their families portray acquiescence. Everyone talks about Miss More behind her back and the children generally don‟t have much respect for her. The adults feel obligated to allow her to educate the children because she does things for everyone in the neighborhood and only asks to be able to teach. This suggest that most, if not all, the adults have come to accept their poor lot in life and don‟t want to change. They haven‟t had the opportunity to go to college as Miss Moore has, so they are at a serious disadvantage.
The children also display acquiescence in the form of ignorance. Granted that there are very few children who would rather listen to a lecture on a hot summer‟s day than swim, but their determination in making her life difficult suggests they don‟t care about what is happening around them. Their ignorance leads to acquiescence, whether it is ignorance of the world or lacking an education, which leads to a way of thinking that accepts things as they are. They become trapped and have no way to fight the discrimination against them effectively. It is not until they see the toy store in the wealthy white neighborhood that they realize what Miss Moore is talking about.
While there is a great deal of acquiescence in this short story, aggression also makes a profound appearance. The narrator, Sylvia, is the best example of King‟s second category. She resents what Miss Moore stands for. “I‟m really hating this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree.” This sums up what Sylvia thinks of what Miss Moore is trying to instill in the children. She doesn‟t like any situation that requires her to rely on her mind; she‟d rather push others around. She feels a deep hatred and resentment toward the wealthy white families who can afford such expensive toys while she could only dream of having something like that. She desires to lash out, but she doesn‟t know who or what she wishes to harm. She‟s angry with her friend for catching on to Miss Moore‟s lesson. Her hate, ignorance, and determination to remain ignorant have left her trapped in a cycle she won‟t be able to escape unless she changes her mindset.
This leads into King‟s third and most effective category: the non-violent resister. Miss Moore embodies the essence of the method I her efforts to educate the children. She is ridiculed by her own peers but does not let this faze her. She is aware of the outside world and knows that without an education, the children will not be able to overcome the discrimination of the white people who would rather they remains oppressed through ignorance. She knows the children aren‟t truly aware of the huge gap in the standard of living between the black people in the slums and their white counterparts. She has also realized they are not understanding or appreciating what she is trying to tell them until she showed it to them. She hopes to enlighten them through her lessons and what she has shown them. “„You know, Miss Moore, I don‟t think all of us here put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs.‟ And Miss Moore lights up like somebody goosed her.” This little phrase gives her the hope to continue when the girl Sugar seems to grasp what she‟s getting at. Even the stubborn Sylvia seems to gain a little insight into what is happening, even though she does not want to admit it.
In the short story “The Lesson,” all of King‟s categorized methods of meeting oppression are clearly represented, if the reader knows what to look for. We come to see that the only real way of defeating oppression is to rise above it and prove to the oppressors that they are not better than those they oppress. Rather, the oppressed that make an active yet peaceful stand are proven to be the better people.

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