Now What?

Additionally many educators no longer feel a sense of responsibility for engaging difficult questions because educational institutions reward them for avoiding controversy and confirming the status quo.

The Answer is Not at the Back of the Book, Seneca Vaught

19 January 2016. It is the day after the official holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. and MLK’s actual birthday—a span of days blanketed with tributes as well as every conceivable way one man’s words and legacy can be twisted to suit a need.

MLK Day 2016 passed in the wake of #ReclaimMLK, #BlackLivesMatter, and #OscarsSoWhite (just to note a few), and now we walk and talk through the days before Black History Month.

Now what?

MLK Day and Black History Month are mostly so much tokenism and appropriation—or better phrased misappropriation.

As the #ReclaimMLK movement has emphasized, MLK has become a whitewashed martyr, a passive radical serving the purposes of the privileged.

I began teaching the radical MLK over thirty years ago, along side Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Malcolm X as well as Gandhi. Eventually I added Howard Zinn’s People’s History.

This was in rural upstate South Carolina in the 1980s and 1990s. This was not a popular or easy thing to do. But it taught me some valuable lessons as a privileged white male.

Race, class, and gender are irrefutable markers for privilege and oppression, but those markers are not the roots of that privilege and oppression.

Privilege is about ideas, privileged ideas.

MLK the passive radical is allowed because sanitized ideas are safe for those in power. The real MLK, radical anti-war, radical anti-capitalism—these ideas are not allowed, remain purposefully muted.

As Arundhati Roy has explained, “We know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

Now what? is informed by the Bill Cosby problems—and yes, I mean plural.

The Cosby sexual predator problem has taken years to rise through the Cosby problem deliberately silenced, and preferably unheard: Cosby’s sit-com fame and popularity as a public black-shamer.

Cosby thrived and survived his own demons in part because despite his surface markers of disadvantage, he was embraced for his ideas, ones that conformed to the messages of the privileged class—boot straps and all that.

And it is no stretch to note that the silenced and unheard Cosby problem has been replayed when Hillary Clinton (against her burden of gender) received applauds for her “what if white people suffered as black people do” stump speech.

Yes, there is privilege in all its blindingly white light like the myopic #AllLivesMatter.

What if a free people refused to tolerate anyone’s indignity remains silenced, unheard.

Privilege is an idea, a series of ideas—ones that can be and are voiced by a wide variety of people who look like privilege and look like oppression.

If we want to embrace MLK as a martyr for a color-blind society, we must admit that privilege feeds on seeing, but wilts under the scrutiny of listening. It is not that we should not see race, class, and gender, but that we must listen to the messages behind what we see.

Privilege twists MLK into a cartoon and builds walls around anyone willing to tell the story.

Privilege does not want to hear that equal rights do not mean equal opportunity.

Privilege is threatened by critical education, critical media, critical citizens.

“The purpose of history is not to confirm the answers,” Seneca Vaught explains, “but to challenge the assumptions and raise new questions about the past that relate to the present.”

19 January 2016. A week and a half before Black History Month 2016.

Now what?

3 comments

  1. Pingback: Now What? – musnadjia423wordpress
  2. Lloyd Lofthouse

    It’s worth mentioning that the last five states to follow the federal law that created martin Luther King Jr. Day.

    Arizona is totally controlled by the GOP from the governor to the legislature

    The Arizona state legislature voted to not adhere to the 1986 federal law establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national paid holiday (John McCain famously voted against the holiday). It took 9 years, 500 million dollars in lost revenue, a corrupt governor, and a national controversy for a severely belated vote on the holiday to limp into the books.

    New Hampshire was the last state to have a paid state holiday named after Martin Luther King, Jr. It was not until 1999 that Civil Rights Day” became Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Still, the measure passed with a vote of 212 to 148. One hundred and forty eight human beings voted against the bill.

    Virginia – The state legislature is controlled by the GOP

    In many Southern states there were and are holidays on the books celebrating Confederate Generals. In Virginia, one of these holidays was Lee-Jackson Day, celebrating both Generals Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson. To align with the Federal holiday, Virginia combined Martin Luther King, Jr. Day into Lee-Jackson-King Day. It is laughable at best and offensive at worst that it took almost 20 years for someone to realize that honoring Dr. King and generals of the Confederacy on the same day was irreconcilable.

    Utah is totally controlled by the GOP from the governor to the legislature

    In 2000, Utah’s Human Right’s Day, celebrated on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, finally recognized the holiday by name. But the controversy didn’t end there. In 2007, the Utah congress (then with no black legislators) was still opening the annual session on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In 2010, Republican senator Mark Madsen introduced legislation to honor Utah-born gun maker John Browning on MLK Day, seeing them as “complimentary”. Aside from the obvious and grotesquely insensitive fact that Dr. King was assassinated, it’s sad that contention like this surrounds the holiday still.

    South Carolina is totally controlled by the GOP from the governor to the legislature

    2000 saw the full recognition of MLK Day by Utah and Virginia, though the holiday still existed in some form for those states. South Carolina has the dubious honor of being the last state in the nation to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a paid state holiday. Up until then, a choice had been offered between MLK Day and three other Confederate holidays. This decision coincided with the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina’s State House dome at the capitol.

    Conclusion – the Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, is a bastion of hate, bias, racism and prejudice. How did this happen?

  3. VanessaVaile

    Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
    Don’t let the social justice momentum stop here or next month. Think on how to keep it in motion — and then do something.

    PS I’ve been picking up mentions and questions about #NAWD 2016 in social media streams. What are your thoughts, ideas about that? The day (or week) would definitely be DIY (+ DIYW) and write your your script. Personally, if it does happen, I would fold #nawd2 into a broader call for social justice awareness.

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