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F R O M   T H E   E D I T O R
The King is Dead
Joseph A. P. De Feo • Long live the King
January 2002

Martin Luther King, Jr. is dead.  And so,  it appears, is his legacy. 

Most events whose pretext is to honor King dilute his ideas with unsound cant about race. Yale’s celebration was no exception, and one event illustrates the point nicely. Yale’s Graduate Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Afro-American Cultural House, and other groups assembled a discussion panel on Civil Right.  Among the invited speakers was Monifa Akinwole Bandele, the national Co-Chair of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM).  This organization is guilty of propagating not only the usual nonsensical ideas embraced by the mainstream about race, but also more extravagantly inflammatory rhetoric. 

The MXGM, like many other groups, elevates race above its status as one adjective among many to a category of being.  These ideas are pervasive, exhibited not only in cultural events but in political debate on various issues.  The recent debacle of the sculpture commemorating the raising of the flag over the ruins of the World Trade Center is a symptom of this illness.  Although the change of race of two men in the sculpture—in the interests of diversity—will not occur, race very nearly took precedence over truth.  The role of two white firemen in the historic event was about to be erased because some people could only view the three firemen as white men instead of as men.  Affirmative action as well, in concentrating only on skin color, ignores actual disadvantaged conditions resulting from poverty, culture, or special circumstances.  It is a superficial way of dealing with problems of inequality.  And yet race is looked upon as the defining factor of a man by many proponents of black pride on MLK day, ignoring King’s dream of a day when his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

One’s skin pigmentation is a relatively unimportant facet of the development of an individual.  Culture has a much greater influence, and is affected by economic, geographic, and religious factors.  A rich black person from the northeast has little in common culturally with a poor rural southern black.  Similarly, black Christians of various denominations have different cultures, not to speak of the differences between black Christians in general and Moslems.  But given these differences, how can one believe that there is a common black culture in America, as the MXGM and other celebrators of MLK day do?  How can one place such weight on race, a mere externality?

One might argue that society has expectations of various people based on race, and that people conform to these insidious demands in various ways.  But in this case black “culture” is merely conformity to societal expectations, stereotypes, or prejudices.  It then ceases to be the pride-inspiring, self-created entity celebrated on MLK day, but a result of the power of society over the individual and a diminishment of free will.  Moreover, societal expectations would be different in different strata and area of the country—certainly not all groups of Americans view blacks (or any other group) the same way, even if they should.  The only power to create such a cohesive national black culture would lie in national media, capable of reaching blacks from all walks of life.  But again, who would so glorify a culture that is the creation of mass media?  And can one really say that life for any given black American resembles television’s portrayal of blacks? 

The MXGM’s literature mentions “black values.”  Again, such a concept implies that there is a common black culture in which such values arise.  The notion of black values, like white values, is a fantasy.  People often use the clichéd expression “white middle-class values” for a reason—because it is much more of an absurdity to speak of “white values.”  One might even argue that the expression “white middle-class values” itself is also vacuous.  The values held by whites in the middle class differ vastly according to variances in culture, location, and especially religion.   So too with blacks.

Culture and values are not in any way transmitted genetically along with racial characteristics; to deny this is to join ranks with debunked quacks whose teachings have justified segregation, slavery, and genocide.  There is nothing about being black that entails believing or doing certain things.  And it is the same thing with white people.  And that is the crucial point.  There are no races, only the human race. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s opposition to segregation was based on exactly this concept.

But the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, represented by Ms. Bandele, sees things differently.  They are a separatist group, calling blacks in America “New Afrikans,” and seeking “independence” from the “white patriarchal Empire.”  America is often rendered “Amerikkka” in their literature.  This organization openly presents itself as a revolutionary society on its web page, and contains a declaration of independence from “Amerikkka,” seeking self-determination for “new Afrikans.”  The puzzle then becomes clearer—such a group as this must maintain public belief in a congenitally different people in order to justify their solution of separation and formation of a new communist state based solely on “black values” (that many of the “black values” espoused by this group have been provided to them by a 19th century German philosopher is not a matter of concern). 

Aside from the ill-considered nature of a decision to invite a representative of a revolutionary separatist group to speak at the University, let alone during wartime, it is ironic that a proponent of a new segregation should be welcome at celebrations of a man who devoted his ministry to ending the old segregation.  They seem to have overlooked that King’s “is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”  And his dream was also that “one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”  But then again, it seems that no one remembers exactly what King stood for—if anyone cares at all.  Truth and Dr. King are made to bow to revolution and politics.

Joseph A. P. De Feo, Editor-in-Chief
 

   
The Yale Free Press is published by students ofYale University. 
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contents. By the same
token, The Yale Free Press is not responsible for the contents of Yale
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Designed by
Joseph A. P. De Feo

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