Martin Luther King Day 2020

For old school liberals*, Martin Luther King is remembered for his monumental contributions toward changing America. Not for womanizing. Not for hating. Not for demanding that white America concede their failings and give up their job to the nearest black woman. He had a dream, and that changed America.

If he had that dream today, would he be canceled for being too centrist?

The expectation on August 28, 1963, was that his words would be rejected, reviled, by racist right-wing conservatives. Times have changed. We’re no closer to judging a person by the content of his character today than we were then, and not only is a colorblind society no longer the goal, but racist in itself as we’re informed that it allows us to ignore discrimination rather than focus on it.

Then again, I’m also informed that I will never understand because I’m a white guy, so what do I know? Even though it looks to me as if we’re getting further away from a society where people are judged by character rather than identity, that’s the sort of thing one would expect someone like me to say. And should I make the mistake of saying so, the passionate will remind me that I don’t get a vote and should shut up and do as I’m told in furtherance of Dr. King’s dream.

What Martin Luther King would say today, if he was allowed to say anything, isn’t clear. He’s not here and no one gets to put their words in his mouth, no matter how strongly they believe otherwise. But I do know what he said when he was alive, and that’s what we celebrate today.

Happy Martin Luther King Day.

*Liberals are not progressives. Progressives may call themselves liberal. Conservatives may call progressives liberal. But liberals are not progressives.

16 thoughts on “Martin Luther King Day 2020

  1. John Burger

    Well, Houston solved the problem this way: activists and King Enthusiasts couldn’t agree on the official parade route. One group wanted to go North and South, the other one wanted to do a kind of circle, even though downtown is laid out in squares. So, they did what most do – they raced to city Hall to file parade routes and get permits for the “official” festivities. The City, seeing the contributions King made to the nation tried in vain to resolve the problem but the group’s wouldn’t budge. Rather than choosing an official parade, the City made the best decision in a sort of Solomonic wisdomy way it could, hoping not to hack off organizers and Enthusiasts alike in both groups and authorized both parades. So, we have two parades. One right after the other. The only difference is that the group’s switch off on who goes first, which leads to other tensions between and betwixt the celebrators, as you can only imagine. For instance, which news station gets the official news footage? Which official sound bytes (bites?) get played and replayed all day long? Yes, if one can’t make up one’s civic mind, then do both. It is for a good cause.

    jvb

  2. ExDenver

    Amen!

    “Progressive” cancel culture of course isn’t new. See below from the days of the CIO war against the far left in a little ditty from Joe Glazer (former “education director” of the United Rubber Workers).

    THE BALLAD OF BILL BAILEY
    Bill Bailey belonged to every radical party that ever came to be.
    ‘Till he finally decided to start his own party so he wouldn’t disagree.
    He got himself an office with a sign outside the door with “Marxist League” in letters red. And to everyone who came around these are the words he said.
    Oh you may be a friend of Max Schackman.
    Jim Cannon and you may agree.
    You may get along with Norman Thomas and with Algernon Lee.
    You may be an old time Wobbly and think Jay Lovestone’s fine.
    You may be a comrade to all of those folks but you ain’t no comrade of mine.

    For 17 years Bill Bailey kept his office with a sign outside the door.
    But he never, ever, got a new member because everybody made him sore.
    Then one night there came a big fire and through the flame and the smoke
    As the firemen rushed in to save Bill’s life these are the words he spoke.
    Oh you may be a friend of Ben Gitlow.
    Earl Browder and you may agree.
    You may get along with Emma Goldman and with the SLP
    You may have belonged to every radical party that ever had a line.
    You may be a comrade to all of those folks but you ain’t no comrade of mine.

    And so on that day Bill Bailey passed away his soul to red heaven it flew. He was met at the gate by old Karl Marx and Frederick Engels too
    They said welcome comrade as they opened the gate to let Bill come inside. As he slammed the gate back in old Karl’s face these are the words he cried.
    Oh you may be a friend of Karl Kautsky and a pal of Ferd LaSalle.
    You may get along with Wilhelm Liebknecht and the First International
    And you may have inspired every radical party from the Hudson to the Rhine You may be a comrade to all of those folks but you ain’t no comrade of mine.

  3. CLS

    Back in 2006, Aaron McGruder’s “Boondocks” cartoon aired an episode called “Return of the King” depicting an alternate reality where Dr. King was critically injured by that bullet in Memphis, later waking from a coma in the year 2000 to a radically different world.

    Looking back at it fourteen years later I wonder if McGruder, a black man, would be able to air the same episode without getting cancelled.

  4. Elpey P.

    These debates would have so much more clarity if we could put an end to the semantic bad faith and just agree to talk in terms of “good racism” and “bad racism.” That’s literally where we are at now (and I mean “literally” literally).

    It obviously applies at the individual level, if racism means anything in terms of personal behavior and attitudes. It still applies at the systemic level if we examine impact on disparities over intent. And it still applies if we consider race to be a social construction, because nobody is arguing biological essentialism is necessary for racism. This whole debate is like the military arguing that what they do isn’t really “violence” because its state-sanctioned.

    1. SHG Post author

      Disparities provide presumptive evidence of racism, but the presumption can be rebutted. Imagine the wokiest of the woke getting everything they ever wanted and yet disparities persist because people are still people, regardless of race, gender, etc., and it turns out the some are good, some are bad, some are smart, some are stupid, and all the rhetorical jargon won’t change it.

      But since if it fails to meet the presumptive outcome expectations, it will be a battle fought in perpetuity with plenty of victims and no winners. I have no clue what a colorblind society will be, whether it will end disparities or not, but humans being humans, I wouldn’t be surprised that it never turns out quite the way critical theory presumes it will.

      1. Elpey P.

        Or it will turn out the way critical theory presumes it will, and then we’ll have to start all over again.

        Disparities from individual to individual will persist, but disparities across groups will still reveal disproportionate trends. Unfortunately our efforts to fight those demographic disparities range from the effective to the counterproductive to the insincerely exploitive.

  5. Harvey Silverglate

    Scott,
    It seems to me that the whole “affirmative action” movement betrayed (even if inadvertently) M. L. King, Jr.’s vision of a society characterized by legal equality. My own view is that one of the disastrous consequences of King’s assassination was that the movement to racial equality was dashed to smithereens as the affirmative action crowd came to the fore. Suddenly the social goal, in which government participated and which the Supreme Court allowed to proceed despite the “equal protection” clause of the 14th amendment, became to compensate blacks for past injustices, rather than to remove the legal barriers to equality and to equality of opportunity.

    How did this translate on the ground? Well, our society felt comfortable failing, for example, to improve early childhood education so as to give black kids a firm footing to take their equal places as adults, because affirmative action gave them favored treatment in, for example, college admissions (a form of coddling and systemic racism that actually discouraged black kids from working hard to study and learn).

    On King’s birthday, I always remember listening to the conversations between my son and his public elementary school classmates as they gathered each afternoon, after school, in my house, to study and do their homework. The black kids (two-thirds of my son’s study group was African-American) would say that they did not have to study and worry about good grades, because “with affirmative action I’ll get into college.” But getting into college did not always nor even often translate into getting an education. And so these affirmative action “beneficiaries” were not able to really compete. And we still do not have an equal society. King’s dream was squashed when he was assassinated, and as the black civil rights leadership was taken over by the likes of self-promoting race hustlers like Jesse Jackson.

    I attended the March on Washington and witnessed (and reported on as a cub reporter for The Ridgewood (NJ) News) King’s “I have a dream speech.” I found it inspiring and a product of King’s genius. His assassination was one of the greatest tragedies suffered by this country in the modern era. The Jesse Jacksons took over the civil rights movement, and the goal of true equality was dashed upon the shoals.

    I live in a city (Cambridge, MA) with a population of 100,000 permanent residents and 100,000 college students. I see how affirmative action has worked in practice. A disproportionate number of black college students (now called “students of color”) major in such fields as “African-American studies”, when instead they should be encouraged (and prepared) to study fields that present real challenges – history, literature, the hard sciences. But these students disproportionately cannot handle the harder courses, because they have not received adequate preparation in public elementary and high schools, and so they are channeled into “gut” college courses that neither challenge nor educate them.

    And so, in my view, the move to true racial equality and integration was thwarted in this country by the twin developments of (1) Dr. King’s assassination, and (2) the Supreme Court’s putting its stamp of approval on “affirmative action” (thereby eviscerating the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment and dooming black kids to an unequal education).

    I think of all of this on King’s birthday each year.

    1. Miles

      The soft prejudice of low expectations, but with the best of intentions. Given the current trajectory, this will continue to get worse.

      1. cthulhu

        As long as the race hustling poverty pimps* are in charge of the Democrats, it ain’t gonna get better.

        *description provided by J. C. Watts, Republican former congressman from Oklahoma, twice national championship winning quarterback for the University of Oklahoma, and owner of a majestic Afro in high school – just ask one of his early non-Afro-owning Democratic opponents who ran a television commercial prominently featuring Watts’ Afro.

  6. B. McLeod

    I was reading an interview with MLK III yesterday, the main point of which was that his father’s work was never finished.

    As I see it, that was largely because nobody competent ever made an effort. Nobody figured out what King was doing and took it forward. Instead, the movement died in the street while twisted caricatures like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson figured out how to make race-baiting into a profit center.

  7. F. Lee Billy

    Liberals are progressive conservatives. You herd it hear first. Trust it. Are you stewpid or what? You know, this is starting to get ugly.

    Oh hi, Shillary and Mr. O’Bomba bin Laden. I did not see you two schmoozing in the corner over in the shadows.

    1. Tony

      Given that the crowd on this site is disproportionately composed of jaded lawyers, I never really know when a comment is a smart bit of irony or satire, or just another crazy asshole in off the street.

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