We had a great teacher, but we were bad students. We observe the Martin Luther King national holiday as we observe most of the rest of our national holidays: with big sales, no mail delivery and sentiment that approaches and sometimes crosses the borderline into the maudlin.
We pay lip service to his accomplishments and the poetry of the one speech that everyone knows by its four-word summary and by the March for Jobs and Freedom. And then we go right back to normal. Normal is figuring out ways to keep minorities down without the blunt force trauma of “white only” signs over water fountains and on the doors of public bathrooms.
We second guess “what Martin would say today.” Always risky. But nowadays, conditions have calcified to the point we probably can be more accurate than in the past.
What would he make of a guy in a hoodie being shot dead by a rent-a-cop for walking in a white neighborhood while black? How about a real cop shooting an unarmed guy running away from a pistol packing real cop?
Has much changed since someone -- and we don’t really know who -- killed King at a cheap motel in Memphis?
Well, red baseball caps have replaced white sheets. They don’t hide your identity as well, but hood-wearing no longer is fashionable.
It’s time to restate the goals of the civil rights movement. To do that we have to examine what they aren’t.
They aren’t means to advance a particular group of people. Black power is the same as white power. This isn’t about either. It’s about removing barricades that never should have existed. That notion has been lost to people since forever.
Here’s a microcosm of what should be: A black man walks into a redneck bar in the middle of Mississippi and no one pays any attention. A white man walks into a local bar on 141st street and no one notices.
Don’t like bars? Your loss. But substitute “church” or other house of worship with the same results.
Introspection. We’re not collectively good at that. What we are good at is playing the victim. And we don’t have to second guess Martin’s thinking on that. We know where he stood because he tried to teach us. And he wasn’t shy about it.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019