Our popular culture has a way of subduing ideas that threaten the establishment. The revolutionary ones get lost, changed, or rendered unusable. Still others are exploited and eventually commodified. In 2021, would King even recognize his ideas in our popular culture?
My post from Monday has remained with me; this morning I looked around for others’ thoughts on King.
For many in our culture (especially Republicans), King is best (or only) remembered for having said:
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.
And that quote is used to justify all sorts of policies. For example:
For those who were around in the 1960s, I’m sure you remember the anger and hatred directed toward King. As for today, things may not have changed:
This transformation of the King legacy by conservatives did not just happen – it has been ongoing. Five years ago, I wrote a blog post reacting to a column by the Editor of the Wheeling Intelligencer, Mike Myer. Donald Trump was about to take office and our local editor was speculating on how King might have reacted to Trump’s election:
I think he would have adopted a much less hardline, vindictive approach than have many of Trump’s foes.
Why? According to Myer:
King would have seen a convincing demonstration that while racism still exists, there is no way it can be viewed as a defining feature of our nation.
There is a way to view racism as America’s defining feature – open one’s eyes.
In the post, I disagreed with Myer and then concluded by citing Chauncey DeVega, who addressed some of what I’ve discussed by viewing King Day as a public ritual. His words seem truer today than five years ago:
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a public ritual in America. To that end, King, who when alive was one of the most hated and unpopular people in the United States, is transformed into a public saint and hero. . . .
The Republicans will claim King as well. They will do this by constructing a fictionalized narrative where he was a “black conservative” instead of a democratic socialist. . . .
The public ritual involves the castration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s radicalism. Again, the “I Have a Dream” speech will be victimized, truncated and excised to ignore its true meaning and weight. There will be few mentions of how in that speech King advocated for reparations for black Americans, and a more humane and peaceful country. By extension, the March on Washington will be used as a type of shorthand that leaves out the other necessary components of its purpose — “for Jobs and Freedom” is apparently, even in the 21st century, too radical a proposition for many American elites and citizens.
MLK as commodity
From Comedy Central:
Guns to honor King? A fun shoot? Have we reached a new low?