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Thursday, 28 March 2019 06:40

MLK’s Legacy: Can We All Share It?

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February’s “Black History Month” has come and gone and now the 51st anniversary of Martin Luther King’s tragic assassination is upon us once again.

For me and many who were “coming of age” when King was actually making a difference, every year on Kings birthday, and on the anniversary of his death, we remember, what a “big deal” he was.

Recalling King’s death on April 4, 1968 always reminds me of that watershed year with its assassinations of both he and Bobby Kennedy. It was the year I graduated from Luther College in Iowa, married Lois, and was drafted into the Army. And remember the riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago that year? I also passed the CPA exam that November which, at the time, seemed to fit right in with all my other worries and concerns.

What got me thinking anew this year was reading comments by a black Dickenson College (Pennsylvania) student in their student newspaper: “I cannot describe how frustrating it is to be forced to listen to a white boy explain his take on the Black experience……[in] honor of Black History Month……white boys” should be shut up.

These comments started me thinking once again. Some of King’s legacy seems to be struggling to survive in today’s world. As examples, I often site the ever-growing segregation/separation on college campuses – separate living, study areas, and courses – apparently encouraged by minority groups themselves. Whatever happened to King’s dream of condemning enforced separateness and judgements based on one’s skin color?

During the last few years, I’ve been publicly expressing my thoughts about Martin Luther King, my appreciative admiration for him, and what he meant to me and many other white citizens of my generation. This student clearly doesn’t want me commenting about King and his influence on me. Perhaps I should know better than to express my feelings so publicly because I almost always encounter criticism and opposition. I never come away unscathed.

Consider these examples of “pushback” against me personally:

• A letter writer in another newspaper suggested my attempts at “MLK-like racial de-emphasis” relieves me of “my obligation to address important racial differences and difficulties” and permits me to “engage in highly racialized practices.” Ouch!

• A social media reply pointed out that whether I “see color” or not, I’m racist either way. That reaction didn’t advance the debate very far.

• Another social media comment expressed the belief that I was missing the point because the segregation I see cropping up in America isn’t the type of thing King was fighting against.

That may be partially true, but I don’t believe King would be very happy with some of today’s progressive tactics of identity politics and enforced segregation.

• And another editorial letter stated that one of my columns “couldn’t have been more misguided.” As with some other of my newfound critics, I was accused of promoting “color-blindness” which they say is a form of micro aggression, among other things.

The dignity of King’s methods compelled me to respect him and listen. I suggest to these critics that minimizing and even denying ways in which King redirected the attitudes of white people, is to diminish him. While aggressively advocating for social justice, King spoke in a way that could both motivate his minority constituency, and help white America understand his peaceful methods and transformative goals. Social justice was his vision for the future. Making friends with white America wasn’t his objective – merely an important by-product.

King’s message to me personally was about “getting out of the way” in terms of segregation and opportunity. Hence my attempts at de-emphasizing, but not ignoring, racial and cultural differences. With those same words King spoke to the oppressed about social justice, began leading them in dealing with it, and gave them hope by proclaiming he had seen the “promised land.”

I believe King would be disappointed with the recent surge in identity politics, enforced separation, and the tendency to deemphasize immigrant assimilation. How could he be happy with the way political correctness has divided us and tied us in knots?

Challenges to my opinions encourage me to examine my original comments and ideas. Additional comments by me provide clarity, which hopefully strengthens mutual understanding with readers. I’m trying to remind people what Martin Luther King meant to white Americans, and how people of all races might be letting him down.

Steve Bakke,
Fort Myers

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