I had decided to sit out Martin Luther King Day on the blogging front, and I was not missed. People with greater eloquence, in grander forums than this, did a much better job of eulogizing and celebrating this great man, than I could ever do. Several times during the day, my thoughts turned to Dr. King, his legacy, and his as-yet, largely unfulfilled dream. More precisely, I dwelt upon the refusal of a large portion of Americans to believe that “the dream” is indeed unrealized.
When I think of Dr. King, I think of two images: the one above, from behind his shoulder looking out over the massive crowd at reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial, when he made his famous speech. The other, for obvious reasons, is this one, a representation of the reality that greeted, and continues to greet, so many Americans.
I’ve said it a hundred times: it’s good to be a white man in America. I know how lucky I am.
The reason I decided to write about Dr. King after all was not a solemn one. I scribble right now because it just dawned on me that by a quirk of the calendar this year the politically determined MLK Day, which is scheduled to always occur on a Monday, coincides with Robert E. Lee’s birthday. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last, but it’s the first time I’ve been cognizant of it and I have to say: the convergence of these two, very different, iconic historical figures pleases the heck out of me.
Specifically, I’m enjoying the hell out of ruminating on just how vexing this must be the the rebel-flag waving “you can’t possibly understand southern culture” crowd. I imagine them getting all confused with their crosses and Tennessee battle flags, forgetting which one they’re supposed to fly in front of their mobile homes, and which they’re supposed to set on fire and, as a result. a tangible uptick in the number of trailer fires today in Tickdick, Mississippi and Flatass, Alabama.
Is it wrong to be a wise ass? Probably, but I’m not much for decorum or solemnity. I’ve never been very good at either. There is a part of me that his hopeful–the part that wonders if the high profile deaths of so many black men and children, and the inevitable push back from law enforcement, politicians, and a lot of clueless civilians reflexively defending the status quo, isn’t a temblor that might indicate the possibility of a culture-altering earthquake of enlightenment. Cops have been doing this stuff since forever, but now folks are actually paying attention. We won’t see increased convictions, but communities are demanding more accountability–and so what if those demands are inspired not by enlightenment but by the desire to avoid negative publicity and expensive litigation. Change is like spaghetti on the ceiling: occasionally it sticks.
It’s going to be a long trip, however it works out. It has only been a few years since a cross was burned on the front yard of a family not 20 miles from where I live, in western Pennsylvania–the home of a family well known for taking in foster children, one of whom, when the crime was committed, just happened to be the one African-American student in their entire school district. There’s a lot of hate–most of it rooted in the shallow soil of ignorance–in those narrow, twisty roads through the foothills and hollows. But shallow soils lead to shallow roots, so maybe there’s a chance.