Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Socialist’s Journal: The Legacy of Dr. King

Brookins Head Shot

*Last week was the national holiday in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and again the meaning of his words and activism are questioned in our society.

What’s more, the meaning of Dr. King is questioned in the black community.

The simple reading of Dr. King’s message would be that everyone in American society should have all the opportunities they deserve regardless of race.  Indeed this interpretation of his message lines up with the historical circumstances that King faced. The problem comes when we try to anticipate how King’s outlook on American race relations would have changed over time.

This leads us to the multiple possibilities for a complex reading of Dr. King. One option is that black people should be given the benefit of any doubt because of the long history of racism in our country and the current institutional racism that people of color must contend with. This view has gained momentum over the past year as black people have victimized by the way in which they are policed.

Another possibility for how King would react to contemporary America is that people should ignore race in all circumstances because one’s worth is derived from their character. This is a more conservative view espoused by people who lived through the social programs of the 1960s and 1970s. Many people of this view feel like the current emphasis on race betrays Dr. King’s original message.

Of course these are two extreme views and I am therefore inclined to believe that Dr. King would be somewhere in the middle. Just thinking logically it should be noted that police departments operate differently in predominately black and lower socio-economic neighborhoods than in white and higher socio-economic areas. As much as the significance of race has decreased, as important as money has become, skin color is still a determining factor in many interactions. To have Raven Symone in a decision making capacity is to go a step further and place emphasis on names that sound like they might belong to a person of color. As long as these kinds of considerations are still on the minds of people there needs to be some sort of balance in which race becomes an asset.

By the same token race cannot be seen as the only important factor in every interaction. There are times when black people are judged by their character or actions and be found to have done something wrong. If King were alive today he no doubt, like many others of his generation, would find fault in many of the actions of people of color. I do not believe however, that King would say race has no place in a discussion of modern America.

The legacy of Dr. King is that his words remain relevant. The same way the country hadn’t lived up to the promises of the Declaration of Independence by the 1960s is the same way the country  doesn’t live up to them today.  For all of the progress that the country has made there is always some aspect of inclusion that alludes people of color.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at trevormbrookins@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

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