It’s so interesting to listen to this last speech of MLK’s right now, while we’re in the middle of the time we’re in. It’s interesting how similar the message MLK is giving to Obama’s–and many people are making quite a show of connecting the two (ahem, mainstream media??). But what I find even more interesting is the differences. Both MLK and Obama talk about making the U.S. a better nation–but there are important differences that each man takes to get there. Look at the way MLK reframes one of the most important questions of our time–The question is not if I stop to help this man, what will happen to me–but if I do NOT stop to help this man, what will happen to him?
Social justice is an integral part of MLK’s message. He finds value in resistance, in ‘the criminal’ who breaks unjust laws. He also finds value in healing–in recognizing the violence and subjugation that black people specifically (but I think all people of color in general) have had to deal with while living under unjust laws. This theme of righting wrongs, of the U.S. owing people of color for the ‘bad check’ it had written to them–it runs through almost all of his speeches, including the one so many people point to in an effort to NOT be held accountable for past injustices–the
Which makes me wonder–would Obama have gotten elected if he had not hidden or artfully dodged questions of accountability? My question is not based on if he had *centered* race–but something just as simple as, if a part of his platform *included* white accountability for past injustices, would he have won?
The other interesting question these speeches bring up for me is the roll of women in the movement of the past and the political world today. While in the past, even though women largely made the movement work, there humanity was regulated to “man”–never once have I heard MLK refer to “humanity” in a way that is gendered “female.”
This makes me think two things. First–women, as a group, have traveled a long ass way since even 1968. You will, in general, not hear Obama refer to humanity as “man” or “men”. It is assumed that when Obama talks about ‘tough times’ for U.S. citizens, he is talking about women, too. Which I think is amazing and wonderful. It says to me that all of feminism has not been for naught.
But at the same time…how much has really changed? Will (poor) women (of color) still be the first on the chopping block (in the form of back to work programs and food stamp cuts) when it comes to ‘saving money’? Will domestic violence programs and anti-rape centers (that again, largely service poor women of color because they are the one with the fewest resources to help themselves) still be underfunded and neglected?
I am excited about an Obama presidency. I look forward to being wrong about all the fears that I have. But I look toward the past to find the truth about all the feel good rash statements that are and will be thrown around in the upcoming days.
We’ve come a long way, baby–but truer words were never spoken when MLK said, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead.”