Constantly, we come across arguments that use the radical and extreme leaders of movements to make retaliatory remarks which are in themselves founded upon faulty assumptions.
In a recent article (“King’s dream and the nightmare of the PC police,” 1/22), Gustavo Ioschpe GRD ’02 posed an interpretation of the modern civil rights movement that I found disheartening. Arguing that the current political discourse concerning racial and cultural problems is filled with emotions like fear and guilt, Ioschpe concluded that separation was now the fault of black Americans, and that the possibility of integration was slipping away because of their leaders’ faults.
Reading it over, I realized that the implication of many of Ioschpe’s statements was that I, a WASP, was either not an heir to the civil rights movement, or that I based my “PC” actions and beliefs on guilt and fear rather than on rational thought and truth.
On the contrary, I will argue quite forcefully that Martin Luther King Jr. has always been a hero in my life because he was a great man. Celebrating his life and the movement he created does not mean any disrespect to others. It is irrational to assume that celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day insults the veterans and presidents of our nation. It is even worse to use the celebration of King to make unjustified claims about the civil rights movement.
To begin with, making a distinction between a black and white person that does not refer to the color of skin is precisely what King hoped for: colorblindness. A person who chooses to attempt distinctions without racial characteristics is not focusing on “minor characteristics,” but focusing on real differences between the two people. Color of skin is more arbitrary than the name brand of shoes — it is a minor difference.
It is not fear of being politically incorrect that drives a person to omit skin color from his description. It is an attempt to re-conceptualize our reality according to what we know to be the truth.
Obviously we will not become colorblind over night, but that does not negate the reasons behind refusing racial differentiation. An accusation that this choice is based on fear is a disturbing misconception.
Next, there seems to be some confusion over King’s status. Martin Luther King Jr. influenced modern political consciousness and American history in a fundamental way. He is not only a “black leader,” but also an American leader.
People like Ioschpe who assert that King represents a small portion of the population are mistaken. Not only do the ideals he stood for remain strong, but the programs, institutions and projects that were inspired by his actions and his words often still stand in our communities.
Although Gandhi and Nelson Mandela might have been just as influential in their respective nations, King’s significance in America — his non-violent resistance to a corruption that plagued our nation — made a change that cannot be overlooked.
Guilt had nothing to do with that change. People who claim it was guilt that resulted in the advance of the black cause belittle the power of King’s dream and arguments. Guilt did not influence a political revolution. White people were not just sitting around feeling guilty, and then suddenly decide to help out black people. That’s an ignorant statement.
The black movement helped itself and claimed the rights deserved by all people in America with arguments, with resistance and with the truth. White people, such as my parents, who participated in that movement, would be outraged at the notion that their participation was driven by guilt and not justice.
Those who think black people need to deal with reality and integrate into the “WASP-ruled order” are attempting to see reality with blinders on. It is the WASP-ruled order that has forced the black movement to constantly justify itself, and that justification means it has to differentiate itself.
Although there are “self-proclaimed heirs” to the civil rights movement who do not deserve defense, all of us should take the time to contemplate our own roles as heirs to that movement. My arbitrary power position as a WASP only makes it more difficult and yet more important that I be accepting and open to the possibility of erasing distinctions between people. The “WASP-ruled order” never had to justify itself, but this does not mean that its way of viewing and judging the world should be completely accepted by all.
King proved that to us.
Martin Luther King Jr. is a hero and a leader whom I respect because he placed truth before irrationality, and he stood his ground. My deference is not founded on fear or the guilt of having slave-owning ancestors.
My deference is justified by the fact that King was a great man who earned the esteem I feel for him. Color of skin should not determine one’s ability to be an heir to the movement for which King gave his life.
Andrew Lind is a senior in Branford College.