When I was a school-age kid, I remember taking a day, perhaps a week, each January to learn about, commemorate, and celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his advocacy for civil rights. For all I know, we took the whole month. These teachings inevitably focused on his “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. As I got older, I am sure there were some “Birmingham Letters” and Selma marches thrown in there as well. (Before you brand me a racist, there’s a lot about high school that I don’t remember. Settle down). There was nuance in the retelling of history; I remember learning that white society imposed barriers, but not that whites as a whole were awful.
Today, schools and society are gearing up for much different conversations (i.e. monologues) on race and race relations. There will be momentous and grandiose productions on MLK Day, given that 2020 was the year of the Uprisings, and this is the first occasion to bring Dr. King’s name into the spotlight with our new lens on racial justice. But is it?
Any human being that has attended an American school within the last 30 to 40 years can attest to the fact that the Civil Rights era is taught in schools, particularly during January. We have long sought to improve this country by bringing to light the struggles of real people. Rosa Parks is another hero from that age whom most kindergarten students can name drop by kindergarten. Indeed, school curriculum and each of our personal experiences confirm that there is no historical cover-up of America’s shortcomings vis-a-vis race and racism.
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Immaterial of his heroism, it is interesting that few students learn about Dr. King’s marital transgressions or general treatment of women. If we must learn about the slave-holding founding fathers and demand schools be renamed based on their centuries’-old sin, is it at least fair to ask if Dr. King’s documented relationships with women call into question his appropriateness to be a face of a movement? #MeToo, anyone?
In short, though, no American is unaware of Dr. King nor of our past. In recent times, with the heavy emphasis on the evils of slavery and the inhumanity of Jim Crow laws, coupled with grossly inaccurate portrayals of police shootings, it’s not surprising that more Americans than ever before show disgust toward this country than show gratitude for being born here. Being a person, an American, and a citizen is complex, but abhorrence toward this blessed nation is simply tragic and disheartening. Even Dr. King believed in American values and ideals. He wanted to join this country as an equal, not tear it down.
Despite Dr. King’s adoration for this country, and astounding optimism and prescience that within a half-century of his battles we would have a black president, the narrative has drastically shifted. Where King was hopeful, now his predecessors hold only a contempt that is constantly used to chip away at the fabric of our American community. I believe this is to the detriment of the great purpose of teaching about black Americans and their role in shaping the United States as presently constructed. We might not discuss Dr. King specifically, but in forcefully imposing constant reminders of racism, white supremacy, police brutality, prison-to-pipeline school systems, and systemic racism despite compelling statistics and reasons to the opposite, the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. is simply diluted and ultimately devalued. How many of us now turn the channel when a millionaire celebrity scolds blue-collar Americans for their lack of wokeness or remains silent over the enslavement of ethnic minorities in China?
The left would brush these and other criticisms off as racial fatigue, another one of their manufactured words. Add it to the list of white privilege, white guilt, white savior, white supremacy, whiteness, and goodness knows what else.
In the world of psychology, there is a term to describe what happens when individuals are overexposed to something. That term is desensitization. According to one account, the process of desensitization refers to the “psychological process by which a response is repeatedly elicited in situations where the action tendency that arises out of the emotion proves to be irrelevant.” Consider how much action is in many blockbuster films nowadays than in the past. Movies have had to adapt to audience demands, which have become desensitized to previous levels of car chases, fights, and explosions. It’s not a coincidence that the original Star Wars had the Death Star, which could destroy a single planet, but that the god-awful sequel trilogy had Starkiller Base, which could destroy entire galaxies. It had to one-up its competition.
Even something as trivial as the excitement experienced by children around the world on Christmas morning is predicated on the uniqueness and novelty of an event. Would kids wake up with sheer joy if every morning were Christmas? Would it be Christmas, or would it just be Monday? If you knew you would get a surprise present each morning, it is safe to say you would run out of enthusiasm (and also exciting toys) at some point.
Now, there will be pushback saying racial consciousness is different than waking up on Christmas. Absolutely. However, the logic being applied is the same. When something occurs so much that it becomes mundane, the only rational response is to disengage. I used to live in a region of the country whose weather was predictably sunny for the next ten years out. Coming from a different region where the weather could seemingly change on an hourly basis, I at first relished the warmth but soon found myself taking it for granted. Why go outside if it’ll be sunny again tomorrow? The pool wasn’t going anywhere.
In much the same way, the left has ruined Martin Luther King Day. Even if the notion weren’t absurd on its face (which it is), through the daily reminders of our complicity in a white supremacist society there is a level of disengagement. I’m racist? Ok, so what else is new? We adapt to the new normal. Every conversation feels like it includes invocations for raising one’s racial consciousness for the sake of raising one’s consciousness. The left will tell you it’s important to have “these conversations.” In reality, they are simply seeking submission.
It’s also interesting to note how these racial conversations have evolved. Much like The Force Awakens had to outdo the original Star Wars with its weaponry, so too do social justice warriors have to outdo themselves. The evolution from white privilege to white fragility to white supremacy occurred in a culture that never stops building on its past. Think about it as the race-hustling’s version of the early Bell telephone to the rotary phone to the mobile phone to the smartphone. The most concerning part about the undebatable evolution of race consciousness is what comes next in their playbook.
I want justice as much as the next person. That being said, I prefer the justice Dr. King had in mind when he spoke to the ideals in the Declaration of Independence, not the kind espoused by a jobless, hipster loser with earplugs. If the qualifying word for justice is racial or social, leave me out of it.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once remarked that if you have to tell someone you’re a lady, then you probably aren’t [a lady]. If American institutions and individuals have to remind me everyday they are compassionate and freedom oriented, well, you’ll understand my reservations.
In the meantime, as this holiday comes and goes, I realize that I care so much less than in the past. Don’t get me wrong, what Dr. King sought and accomplished is remarkable. In his time, the struggle was real, as were the gains. When he succeeded, America succeeded. Now? I’m not so sure.
Anyways, if I miss anything on Monday, I’ll just get caught up on Tuesday.