Thursday, February 25, 2016

Everyone Love Martin




As Black History Month rolls to an end, one of the most interesting developments is how everyone loves Martin these days.  Martin Luther King, Jr. that is.  He has been used to defend  gun rights and commemorated by no less than Donald Trump for his "record-breaking crowd" at Liberty University this past January.  Everywhere you turn, conservatives are heaping praise on MLK, especially in condemning Black Lives Matter, which they seem to think Martin would have never approved of.  Here is Fox and Friends using his niece Alveda King to say that her uncle would never have condoned such a group.

This kind of cultural appropriation is nothing new.  Few would ever admit that Memorial Day stems from a commemoration first held by Black Freedmen in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865.  Black music was appropriated throughout the 20th century by everyone from George Gershwin to Elvis Presley to the Beastie Boys.  One can also find it throughout the fashion industry, in art and in literature.  So, it is not surprising that we now see it in politics as well.

The most blatant example is the sense of victimhood that has swept the white conservative world.  Everyone is a victim now, whether it is some poor community that can't display a nativity scene in front of its town courthouse, or fly the Star and Bars without recrimination.  Even the KKK feels discriminated against when it had its permit denied to stage a march in New York.  I'm sure Martin Luther King Jr. would have appreciated the irony in this.

What makes this even more ironic is watching Trump rail against what he considers to be too much political correctness in society today.  That we should all be free to shout out whatever petty annoyance, grievance or hate-filled message comes to our mind and not be worried about the PC police, which is just his way of saying to hell with the civil rights of others.  He's sure MLK would have approved.

Well, White Americans had no problem venting their frustration and anger during the Civil Rights Movement, whether it came to dumping food on Blacks at segregated lunch counters or spraying them with water hoses at rallies or blowing up a church that killed four little girls.  These were the most publicized examples, but Blacks and other minorities and their White sympathizers felt thousands of other indignities every day during this long struggle that finally resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a century after it was first proposed.

We have seen a continual assault on this Act ever since.  Most recently, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act that stemmed from the CR Act by allowing states to carry out their voter ID laws and other means of marginalizing minority voters.  Justice Ruth Ginsberg evoked Martin Luther King Jr. in her fiery dissent, saying that his legacy has been "disserved by today's decision."  No matter, Chief Justice Roberts felt there were enough examples of voter fraud to warrant the decision.

Trump has tapped into the long simmering resentment to the Civil Rights Act, which many Whites felt upset the fragile balance in our society, giving Blacks an unfair advantage, especially when Affirmative Action was mandated during the Nixon administration.  This led to the so-called "quota system," which meant universities and employers had to provide fair access to minorities, setting aside a certain percentage of admissions and jobs to minorities.  This was met with angry protests then, and is still much reviled now, with many Whites claiming they were overlooked in favor of a less qualified Black or person of other color.

Many states have tried to block or ban this preferential status, and in 2014 The Supreme Court stepped in once again to uphold a 2006 decision by Michigan voters to do away with affirmative action in their state universities.  Surprisingly, Justice Breyer joined the conservatives on this decision seeming to feel that state voters had the right to decide these issues, not the federal government.

Many have accused President Obama of polarizing the race issue, yet it is decisions like these that polarize our society and give credence to xenophobic populists like Trump who rally supporters behind messages of fear and hate that echo the segregationists of the 1950s and 60s.  He is not alone in these sentiments, joined by other conservative candidates on the stump like Ted Cruz.  Even more shocking are apologists like Dr. Ben Carson, who himself benefited from affirmative action but is loathe to admit it.

Little wonder Fox and Friends called on Alveda King, or that Fox uses other Black surrogates to attack Black Lives Matter, which is again calling attention to the vast discrepancies that characterize our country, to which many of us have conveniently turned a blind eye toward.  What we have learned is that civil rights is a continuous struggle, especially when these civil rights are undermined by a conservative Supreme Court that places state rights over individual rights, counter to the original intent of the US Constitution.

This is what Martin Luther King Jr. fought against.  He wanted the US Constitution to be held paramount over odious state constitutions and laws that expressly limited the civil rights of Blacks and other minorities.  This was also true of the Founding Fathers, who attempted to create a stronger federal union, not a weak one like we already had in the Articles of Confederation.  Unfortunately, here we are again fighting to uphold the US Constitution in the face of antagonistic state interests and the petty grievances of individuals who believe we have too much "political correctness."

You can't claim to love Martin if you fight against the civil rights he fought for.

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