My mother once told me that she’d been living in an apartment in downtown Fresno when Dr. King was murdered. She mentioned the news in passing to her landlord, and his response was “Just another dead nigger.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Barack Obama’s presidency, it’s that we aren’t nearly as far away from this as we should be. Whether or not a modern King would be jailed under the NDAA for his radicalism.
(Incidentally, that second link is very interesting and you should check it out.)
There is a persistent idea in our society that the victims of oppression are somehow responsible for being oppressed. People struggling to survive on minimum wage should have worked harder in school. People without healthcare should have gotten a better job.
When a woman is raped & murdered then whatever her final actions were she was wrong to make them. If she fought back, well she should have just submitted & she would have survived. If she submitted, well she should have fought back and defended herself.
Students who are bullied & threatened for pointing out their school was breaking the law with a religious display should have just shut up & looked away. Children murdered or hounded into suicide for being gay should have stayed in the closet.
A teenage boy shot dead for wearing a hoodie on a rainy night shouldn’t have been so black and thug-like. Besides, he smoked pot & made videos of himself looking like a badass, so why waste tears on him?
Over and over again, different situations, different prejudices, different injustices.
What they all have in common is an attempt at justifying the actions of oppression. Making excuses for the violence, the neglect, the cruelty. Appeasing the abusers. Attacking the victims.
As I think about the attitudes of our day, I begin to believe that this one is the most dangerous, the idea that this person somehow deserved what happened to them, so it wasn’t really a crime. As if it would somehow make stalking, confronting & shooting Trayvon Martin not a crime somehow if he was just a bad enough person.
It doesn’t work like that. Lynching Hitler would still be murder. If your reaction to news of an alleged crime is to question the character of the alleged victim, then you should take a long, hard look at your prejudices and priorities.
We haven’t reached Dr. King’s dream yet, but we’re making progress. Slowly, maddeningly slowly, but progress all the same. Perhaps we’re also making strides on other roads, ones he wouldn’t have considered or perhaps even would have disapproved of. That’s okay, he was as mortal and imperfect as the rest of us.
He sure could give a speech, though.