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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Contradictions Abound

The amount of attention that has been garnered by the passing of Coretta Scott King is beginning to not just suprise me, but shock me. At her funeral this past weekend numerous famous civil rights figures and contempoary local politicians were in attendance (as is expected) but, for some reason, so were the four living U.S. Presidents. Not only were these people in attendance but Hillary Clinton, Ed Kennedy, and a host of others took time out of their schedules to pay their *respects* as well. As a crusader against capital punishment, against the War in Iraq, pro-women's lib(eration), pro-queer rights (including same-sex marriage), and pro-animal rights (she's a vegan for political reasons) she's basically pretty darn leftist. Do the U.S. and these leaders realize these things in their adulation of her?

I find it contradictory that people like our current President or his father would attend the funeral of this woman--our current President due to the recent immense budget cuts to education and health programs that she and her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, would have surely opposed and H.W. Bush due to the criticism that Reagan initially had for her husband's birthday being established as a national holiday (criticism that was probably shared by his VP, H.W.). I guess it can be summed up in one word: politics.

Anyway, can anyone give me clarification as to why she is being treated in this way? I in no way am attempting to diminish her to "Dr. Martin Luther King's wife" as so much of the mainstream media and history books depict her. She has fought for the past 38 years since MLK's death to help bring his dreams to reality (even more counting when MLK was alive) but I still feel like people are attending because of her historical and present-day symbolism to the civil rights movement as oppose to their agreement with what she fought for. Other thoughts on this? Anyone also feel strange about the attention focused on her passing?


At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

White people want to look less racist, while not giving anything up. Making a huge deal out of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King is one way of trying to not look racist but to support a political strategy which is safe. (as in, can't we all just be nice to each other?)

That's my opinion anyway.

At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have pretty diametrically opposite politics to you, but I also thought that the attention paid to Coretta Scott King was not really deserved. I mean, she did do a lot for civil rights and I think most of what she did was good, but I still think the attention paid to her was partly due to the fact that she was MLK's wife. How could it be otherwise?

This was politicians trying to improve their ratings, but at least as much to cover their bases lest they be accused of bigotry for not celebrating it. It's kind of a beauty contest to see who can celebrate more. Kind of like the insane, exploding amounts of money countries gave to Southeast Asia after the tsunami.

At 6:11 AM, Anonymous Guess Who said...

Deeper than that. The adulation and celebration helps both sides-- who are relatively opposed to substantive measures to curb black incarceration, integrate schools, expand health care, or address situations in Sudan/Haiti/E. Africa-- continue to reinforce (consciously or unconsciously...pick your poison) the narrative that American values and beliefs eventually triumphed over racism and that our society has moved progressively and steadily toward greater measures of equality and justice than ever before. The entrenchment of this narrative not only refocuses the problem of racism to individual bigotry or black cultural pathology at the expense of wider political forces that are at work, but it also whitewashes history to recast the post-1965 activism of black Americans (and other groups for that matter) as dangerous forces outside the bounds of legitimate American political discourse. These groups-- feminists, black nationalists, and now even the NAACP or ACLU-- are deemed as having nothing of consequence to say, because there is already an American "consensus" towards civil rights, as evidenced by our idolatry of 1950-60s civil rights era heroes. We can go on believing that we have fulfilled that mission while utterly neglecting the entrenched backlash against civil rights legislation in all three branches of government and the unfathomly visceral disgust that many in the general public have for claims of justice made by blacks, women, gays, etc. that are recoded as "interests," as if justice could be characterized as an "interest" in the same way a new highway is.

For two sustained (and convincing) defenses of this view see, Singh, "Black Is A Country" (Harvard Univ. Press, 2003) or Smith, Rogers M., "The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America" (with Philip A. Klinkner, 1999)

At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jersey, to be honest I'm a little surprised at your surprise. I mean, didn't Reagan's funeral sort of show the same last minute adulation? The guy dies and suddenly he's The Best President Our Nation Has Ever Seen....in death, we tend to idealize prominent figures, and everyone shows up to show what a fan they were. In your post you said yourself what the explanation is -- politics. So I mean, you're right, and/but why are you surprised?

Also, to play devil's advocate here, I'm a bit skeptical that you (or anyone) might have preferred the opposite situation -- if NO one had made a big deal out of King's death (or if only the extreme left had), then I bet there could/would have been a post about 'why aren't people making a bigger deal out of this loss? Look at all she did; why isn't she receiving the hero's farewell and attention that she deserves.' And we can't have it both ways....so which is better?

At 1:27 AM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

Very true, first commentator. I do feel that many who fight for social justice (which usually actually means social, political, and economic justice...whatever those things mean to different people) have not truly internalized the privelege they would have to relinquish from success in their fight. This goes for people from particular socioeconomic, racial, cultural, religious, gender, etc. backgrounds. Their elevated place in society is based on their non-inclusion in particular oppressed groups.

Guess who, if both sides are "relatively opposed to substantive measures to curb black incarceration, integrate schools, expand health care, or address situations in Sudan/Haiti/E. Africa" I posit the question what are Black people to do?

Anonymous at 9:03, I expect people to be fake and laudatory at the funeral of someone like Reagan but not for someone like King. As U.S. President, Reagan was at one point (arguably) the most powerful and influential person in the world. The living U.S. Presidents have gone to his funeral and the Pope's funeral and those may be it (someone correct me if there are more) and now they're all at Coretta Scott King's. Now correct me if I'm wrong but I don't see Mrs.King in the same clout category as Reagan or the Pope and I don't feel that attending or not attending her funeral has as varied political benefits or ramifications for the living Presidents. In death we do tend to idealize certain figures but even that is not a sufficient explanation of the hoopla around Coretta Scott King's passing or the high-level government figures, recording artists, and the like who were attendees of her funeral.

The opposite situation would not have been preferred, no. The level of attention paid to something like this is too subjective for me to suggest a proper level, however. I'm not Ted Turner.


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