Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Thoughts and Observations on Martin Luther King Jr.

Yes, I'm a touch late on this, but I did start working on this post before it ceased to be Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I was watching video of Dr. King's famed "I Have a Dream Speech" (a cruddy video is available here, along with audio downloads, and a transcript), when a few things struck me that I have to get off my chest.

1) Racism is still alive and (un)well in America today. For example, Dr. King used the word "negro" 14 times in his speech. I think it's safe to say that Dr. King didn't consider it to be derogatory in his day, and from my limited knowledge of the time period, it wasn't considered offensive. The question for me becomes, why is "negro" considered racist language today?

I believe that the underlying reason is that we, the American people, assign racist connotations to each new word we come up with to describe "people of color". Our nation hasn't magically progressed to an enlightened stage where we've suddenly realized that we were backwards nearderthals to use the word "negro". Again to best of my knowledge, even the n-word, which will not be used on this blog, began with a far less demeaning denotation. I think we have to admit the problem goes a heck of a lot deeper than what words we use - the problem is racist thinking that lurks in the shadows. We can keep coming up with new "minority words", but we'll accomplish nothing. The only way we're going to be able to move towards the elimination of racism, is not to run and pretend it doesn't exist, but rather to face it head-on.

2) Despite our shortcomings, we have made progress since the days of Dr. King. One example I noticed last month was President Bush's' response to the allegation of Kayne West and others that the governments slow response to Hurricane Katrina was motivated by racial factors. In this article, Bush said, "You can call me anything you want, but do not call me a racist." This statement is telling.

As a white person in America today, I can think of few insults that would hit harder than being called a racist. I think this really shows that some things really have changed since the days of Dr. King. In the United States, racism is *NOT* ok. Of course, in some respects I believe this has developed to the point where we have a vicious and not always beneficial intolerance of intolerance.

Don't get me wrong - I despise racism as much as the next guy, but I wonder how we can "cure" racists if we're unwilling to even acknowledge the existence of the opinions of the "diseased". In my experience, if you shout someone down, they're not going to even consider your point of view. I think it's great that racism is no longer the norm or for that matter acceptable, and maybe I'm simply naive, but to an extent I think we need to try and tolerate the intolerant.

On a lighter note, I have to say waving at the camera in hopes of being noticed on TV is really obnoxious and dumb-looking in any era. It's ridiculous how many people you can spot in the video of Dr. King's speech throwing their hands around in hopes of getting their 10 fingers of fame. Look at this:

Granted, Dr. King looks pretty awesome when he throws his arm up. But hey, it's his speech - he can do whatever he wants and still be cool! I'll even give a pardon to the man in front doing a fist pump - he appears to be genuinely caught up in the words of the Dr., and even if he is just trying to get some TV time, at least he had the decency to actually face Dr. King. However, the two attention hogs (yes, white dude flapping the pamphlet - that means you and your pal over King's left shoulder) look kinda silly. I mean, sure, you can show your grandkids the video, but how well is that going to go over...?

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
-Martin Luther King Jr.
January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968

1 comment:

Jim said...

Now I may just be a ignorant white from the boonies of Wyoming, but here is my opinion about racism and the changing connotations of words. I think part of the problem is recognizing different races. This is a little difficult to communicate in such a short space especially without sounding racist. Anyways back to my point. As a young kid I didn't care about a difference in race. Sure I wasn't around African-Americans much, but I did see them on trips to Chicago, and I was also around Indians. They looked different, but it was the same thing as just having different color of eyes or hair. I was to naive to realize there was this big difference /note some sarcasim. Then comes school. Here is where I feel good intentions backfire. We get the "Weekly Reader" in class and it tells you how you should treat minorities, and how you should treat all races equally. Now on the surface this is all well and good, but deeper down I think it hurts more than helps. This type of thinking already is heading in the wrong direction because you are classifying a person based on the pigmentations of their skin. Then when you meet a person of a different color you make your actions based on trying to not be racist instead of just treating them like a normal person. I feel that until we stop characterizing people based on race that we will always have racism.

Which is why I want to give kudos to King for this quote, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

We are all God's children and King as a Christian realized this. I long for the day when we won't define a person by the color of their skin.

I will finish what I will call a miniblog with this joke for CJ, not to make light of the situation or Dr. King. While we all know discrimination based on the color of skin there is another problem facing America. Everyday people with lower quality of skin are discriminated against. Whether it be ACNE or perhaps your skin just isn't as smooth as a baby, you are being discriminated against every day. We must unify this nation and stand up to those perfect models and say we will not tolerate this any longer. If you want to know why I bring this up ask me or CJ and we will most kindly explain.