Thursday, January 15, 2009

And They Wonder Why

One of the most fascinating things I've noticed in politics is the push by some members of the GOP to claim the vision of Dr. MLK, Jr. as representative of their political philosophy. How often have we heard the line that we should be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character? It's a point I certainly believe in, and I don't doubt that there are some Republicans who genuinely believe it as well. I do, however, believe that they are few in number. I believe that this line is used simply as a convenient weapon of words in order to dismantle programs that have helped to move some things forward in our society, and to dismantle them while pretending that the world has changed (I will not quote Treebeard here, though I am mighty tempted) and offering no viable alternatives. Issues of race, particularly with the rise of BHO, are supposed to have currency no longer.

Yet, how can Republicans begin to think that the rest of us simply don't get it. As black folks have advanced in ways that are unimaginable to the black people who were here a century, and certainly two centuries, ago, we generally are told, sometimes blatantly and often subtlely, that we should not look back. We, the multi-generational American black folks, are supposed only to focus on the future. If we do look back, and if we do ask questions, or feel, then we are divisive. I think that the Department of Justice's former Voting Section head voiced for many of his philosophical compatriots this sentiment when he described the former head for U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Mary Frances Berry, as the way he liked his coffee: "black and bitter."

But on this, the 80th birthday of Dr. MLK, Jr., I want to ask Republicans to examine the totality of his words, his political positions, and his deeds. I want Republicans to remember that some of the same people who were a part of the dramatic rise in the GOP's stock in the white south, were on the opposite side of Dr. MLK, Jr.'s philosophy, though they were Democrats at the time. And I want everyone to feel free to reflect on the contributions of the broader black community to the American story (and not just in February). I want the black story integrated into the American narrative; it deserves that place of honor.

So to Republicans, stop asking why your party looks like something P. W. Botha would have been proud of. Examine your own house. The Democratic Party does not have to have a lock on diverse communities, but they at least have enough home training to make them feel comfortable enough to seem like they are a part of the party, and not gate-crashers. I am speaking as a former (albeit brief, six weeks back in my freshman year of college) Republican. I felt like I was among people who saw Dr. MLK, Jr.'s dream as a nightmare. And I still see that sentiment in the people who populate the party today. I have grown, and I have changed. And if the Republicans want to get a sense of what Dr. MLK, Jr.'s dream really means, then they need to do the same.

3 comments:

Fiona said...

The way I see it, the argument is lest anti-historicist than blatantly racist. It's not the you should always look *forward* rather than back. It's that every community that has had to overcome obstacles is supposed to be *grateful* and never again mention the past.

Did you hear Lonnie Bunch interviewed on NPR the other day? Susan Stamberg said that the museum of African-American history made her feel guilty. Then she asked why, since BHO is president, we need the museum. ?????

Dr. Bunch did a good job answering, but I was stunned at that question. I mean, have we ever heard someone say, "Well, since our democracy is still functioning, why do we need a museum about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers?"

Miriam said...

F: I totally heard that interview and thought the same thing!! Lonnie Bunch did a great job in answering her question.

And I *do* love me some Treebeard...

Margot said...

I suggest everyone pick up a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Outliers. It does a fantastic job of adding historical and cultural texture to what is often a facile
discussion of why some people/groups succeed, and why other people/groups do not.

It doesn't tackle the issue of race head on, but I feel it's a great tool both for exploding the binary, thoughtless and nuance-free positions on race, ethnicity, class, and rugged individulalism espoused by our more wacko GOP brothas and sistas, as well as for dismantling the often automatic excuses that we as African-Americans frequently give for why we are more or less prone to success in certain industries or
pursuits.

This is tangential to the theme of the post, but only slightly. Without an honest examination of the historical and cultural legacies of different communities--
everything from the livelihoods of
ancestors, language characteristics, demographic patterns, and even luck--we can't come to a lucid or complete conclusion about the reasons for the success or failure of any one individual.

Dr. King was concerned with bringing the American Dream to all parts of our society, and I feel this is a great book to read as we reflect on how to make his dream a reality.

Click here for an analysis of the book by my favorite moderate Republican, David Brooks.