Martin Luther King Day

This article from the N&O will hurt your heart (assuming you have one). The Daily Tar Heel’s article, not even 500 words long, will make you wonder if they even tried.

I’m white, so obviously I will never understand what it means to be black in this country. The “dual consciousness” that Du Bois described a hundred years ago in The Souls of Black Folk is captured by this passage:

One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

I have to wonder if taking a “day off” from everything is the right way to commemorate someone’s life so dedicated to active change.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

The rhetorical sledgehammer of anaphora aside, to me, that doesn’t ask us to take a day off from work, file out of the classroom, close down businesses, grind everything to a hault. Is this holiday meant as a reflection on our progress? If so, that’s all well and good, but isn’t progress measured by action, not reflection?

I didn’t live during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, so I can’t say for sure whether we’ve made any real progress. What I can say is that I had no concept of race until kindergarten when we studied Black history during Black History Month. The special focus placed on achievements of African Americans led me to ask questions of my parents that I had never thought to ask before. “Why don’t we celebrate a Spanish history month?” “Why don’t we celebrate an Italian history month?” and yes, even this: “Why don’t we celebrate a White history month?” I was taught by my public elementary school how to differentiate between races. Although, the argument could be made that if I hadn’t learned it there, I would have eventually learned it elsewhere, with arguably more negative results. But that’s all conjecture at this point.

I also find it funny that the NAACP employs a blitzkrieg tactic against town councils in an effort to rename a street in every city to “Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd”. Everyone remembers the big stink last year when they changed the name of Airport Road. The town council felt better about themselves for doing something they could easily do in the name of racial progress. The businesses on Airport were angered by the added expense of changing their advertisements, listings, etc. to the new address. And to the average citizen, there was some confusion brought on by the fact that there was another street already called MLK not too far away.

What I’m trying to say in a roundabout way with all this rambling is that I don’t think we do a very good job commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. What’s the right answer? I don’t know. There probably isn’t one. I don’t know if declaring a national holiday quite gets it. What happens tomorrow? We blink, and then go back to the same disinterested state we were in the day before. So as for me, I’m going to use today to catch up on reading for class and prepare for an upcoming Mock Trial tournament. Somehow, I think Dr. King would have wanted it that way.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

Dr. King’s entire speech is available at http://www.mecca.org/~crights/dream.html

8 thoughts on “Martin Luther King Day

  1. You mentioned in your post that as a white individual, you’ll never know what it’s like to be black in the US. I’m black, and I’m going to give you a glimpse of what it’s like from my perspective…White people in this society are privileged. Everywhere you look, there are other white people. People who look just like you. Talk like you. Dress like you. Act like you. Have the same type of family life and background as you.Turn on the TV. You see plenty more people who are very much like you. You see dolls and action figures that look like you. You have plenty of beautiful movie stars that look like you. You’re told that your color and race are beautiful.Look at the books. Ever since you were a child, there have been plenty of white characters in books for you to identify with.Flip the pages of major magazines. Most of the models are white. Many of the stories and features are targeted at white people.Then go to public school. Learn all about the history of your race, from your race’s perspective, every day. Martin Luther King Day and the month of February are the times when you study “those other people.”Where do Blacks, Asians, Latinos and Native Americans fit in? Let’s see…- We’ve gotten used to being the only one in a group who looks “different.”- In popular TV, movies and books, we’re often reduced to token status- In major magazines, we’re hardly focused on at all (unless the magazine is specifically targeted at us)- In public school, we never get to hear history from our ancestors’ perspectivesPerhaps, as a white individual, you’ve gotten so accustomed to this privilege, this high status in society, that it’s hard to even recognize that it exists. You know? I personally do not like black history month, or MLK day. I think “black history,” along with “white history,” should be studied EVERY day, not just on certain days. Studying it on certain days suggests that it’s separate from the rest of history. That’s all for now! Remember, I am NOT speaking for all black people!

  2. Marie, as long as you live believing in the myth of “white privilege” you will not reach your full potential as a person. In today’s society no one is holding you back from doing anything. By talking about “white privilege” you are perpetuating a myth that causes black americans to put limits on themselves b/c “the white man is keeping us down.”Furthermore, it is extremely ignorant to say that all people that are white “Have the same type of family life and background.”

  3. Brian, I did not mean to make the assumption that all white people live the same way; my bad. But white privilege is a fact of life. It has nothing to do with reaching your potential. I will reach my full potential, just as others in my family have. White privilege is not a huge KKK-type institution. No, it’s a subtle thing. The linked article provides an excellent explanation of what I’m talking about: http://www.dickshovel.com/priv.html

  4. One more comment I’d like to make: if — according to you — white privilege in America is only a myth, why have every single one of our Presidents been white males?

  5. Every single one of our presidents have been white males largely b/c it takes time for these things to work their way through the system.The heyday of civil rights was just now long enough ago to produce someone old enough to have reaped all the consequences of it — especially when you realize there’s a lag between changes being decided upon and actually being made back then.Also, people don’t vote for candidates b/c they’re a white male or a black female or any other combination. It’s not like there haven’t been candidates that aren’t white males — they just didn’t beat that 50% chance of winning the election.-Cameron

  6. i feel like some people do vote based on race.. like, if there was a black candidate running, i know some people who would vote against them, even if they agreed with their “politics,” just because they’re black.it all goes back to why more attractive candidates do better than less attractive ones. man is an easily biased, stereotyping species.

  7. I agree with David, humans are easily biased and influenced by superficial reasons, but that’s not the reason we’ve never had a black president. Change is happening slowly; most people of age to be president lived through the integration of schools, so they really did face a disadvantage. However, it is evident that when good black candidates appear, they do very well in government. Barack Obama won almost 80% of the vote in his Illinois Senate race. Our past two Secretaries of State have been black. And on a different note…The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Beyonce Knowles, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Tyra Banks, and many more shows/actors/singers/models are all black or focused on black families.

  8. A lot of very smart black conservatives assert that the true menace to the black community in contemporary society, is the destruction of the black family. Thomas Sowell and Alan Keyes, just to name a couple, place a lot of the blame for this destruction of the black family on the last 40 years of socialist federal economic policies.I think they both, Thomas Sowell especially, make a very compelling argument. While in the past it has been slavery and Jim Crow keeping the “black man” down, currently it is the disarray their community structure is in that keeps them down today.I think Bill Cosby was also saying as much when he made his NAACP speech a year or so ago. Of course, the civil rights establishment doesn’t want to hear any of that and would prefer to label the problem as “white privilege.”

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