On this 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King I’d like to say a few things.
We are, despite our division, in a much better place then we were in 1968.
Despite that we still have a long way to go.
For anyone who wonders if the words and actions of the civil rights movement still have relevance, remember that within most living people’s lifetime there were laws that restricted citizen’s rights to marry, travel and raise children.
That… economic strength, passed on through the generations, was not as strong for women and communities of color, if you were a woman of color things were at least twice as hard.
That… the modern middle class was built on the strength of a massive war effort and the financial benefits that came with it, and that African-Americans were largely exempted from those benefits. These foundations were even further distant when considering that discriminatory hiring, firing and salaries were common and when African-Americans tried to band together to demand better conditions violence always ensued.
The current conditions, economic disparities supported by racist assumptions that are now being used to prove those very assumptions, have been with us a very long time. If the country is over 200 years old and Civil Rights have been in place by law for 50 of those years, even assuming everyone instantly got the rights they deserved, which they didn’t, we have been a bigoted country supported by racist institutions for 3/4 of our existence.
Making it personal, If you have made any “mistakes” in your 20’s are 50 and are still paying for them you are, those mistakes put you about where we are as a country now, older and not really all that much wiser.
Post-racialism is a myth concocted by people who hope we get too lazy to do the math or too distracted to not look at the calendar. If we do nothing else lets not forget that we are only a short few steps into this new paradigm and it isn’t too early to lose it all.
RIP MLK 4/4/1968
Edited on 10/12/17 because the first time around I just don’t give a f***!
Edited 9/8/17 because brought to you by the letter “M.”
Edited (yet again) on 8/10/2018 for a few misplaced (s)s and slightly augmented wording.
Can we re-purpose a reactionary frame?
Can we take something not quite patently offensive, but triggering and reshape it to mean something that can unite rather than divide? Can a community of people, who already feel burdened with the explainer role, manage again to unify under something they mainly feel is a bastardization and outright insult to the movement they identify with?
If we’ve learned anything from the election of Donald Trump, we should take away this, using the language of the oppressed to claim oppression works, but can the opposite work as well.
When I’d seen the statement “All Lives Matter” in response to BLM, I cringed. I knew it was a reactionary, angry, reflexive response to a needed if not fully appreciated movement. It angered me that people who know better should have understood that killing an unarmed member of any community should be denounced, that people who should know that there is a disparity between the way young Black men are seen and treated in our society, and the way young white men are treated. That Black Lives Matter, of course, wasn’t a statement of exclusivity but one of defense. That the implication that ONLY Black Lives Matter was NOT part of this declaration, nor was the implication that Black Lives Matter MORE, but it was merely that Black Lives Matter AS WELL.
There is much to be said about how we got here, much hand wringing to be done about how history had drawn a clear line to this moment and how forces, both seen and unseen have forced these confrontations.
For context, I suggest reading some of the books on slavery or civil rights or some of the more inclusive books on American history A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is a good place to start.
I’m not getting into context here, it’s too obvious to me and would distract from my point. Plus, I believe we should all be more responsible for exposing ourselves to the context of the history of the country of which we so effulgently pronounce our love.
One of the things I have learned about messaging is that sometimes to do it effectively; you have to give up some deeply held preconceptions. You have to resort to some to the tricks of the oppressor, if you will, and one-up them by playing their game. There are limits to this, of course, but within those limits is where progress can be potentially made.
Appropriation is a hot-button term. It evoked Native headdresses or kente cloth; it evokes everything from girls in yoga pants to Rachel Dolezal.
It doesn’t deserve the reputation it has. Appropriation is, in some cases, the same thing as acceptance, it is the brother or sister or transgendered, polyamorous, biracial neighbor of cultural assimilation. McDonald’s appropriated images of Black families in print ads to appeal to the people it was trying to sell burgers to, advertising, in general, appropriates members of audiences it wants to reach, and this is often called “inclusion.”
My feelings are half and half. Half of me welcomes the representation because it brings visibility and half of me knows the motivation is to sell a product. In many cases, even this gives a certain amount of arrival cred but still begs the motivation question. Yet, for whatever reason, it’s better to be seen in a positive light than a negative one, though it can be argued that this isn’t all that positive:
but is was certainly better than this:
Appropriation can be a gateway to conversation and understanding, or it can be a gross misuse of a symbolic cultural totem. I think its time for us to use the poseur of appropriation on the All Lives Matter crowd.
It makes sense that reactionary forces would seize on an approximation of a statement that virtually says the same thing. In this era of lack of imagination, lack of the ability to see things in shades of grey, and lack of connection across lines of partisanship, we have been unable to ask each other, “so what exactly do you mean by that?’ instead of reflexively attacking each other over our perception of that meaning.
So let’s start out by saying that all lives do matter. Black, White, Mexican, Gay, Straight, tall and short, cis, queer, nongender specific, Cops who occupy all of the other identities as well and are both sheltered and wrongly maligned, we can even go as radically far as to say that plants, animals….all life is important. The human variety is where we’ll focus for the moment though, let’s just say that all human experience is valuable.
Now we can get into a little trouble here in our appropriation as we often do when trying to be inclusive, how far is too far? So if the whole point of this is a marketing strategy (and make no mistake, the most efficient way to convey this message is through that means), who is the intended audience?
Assuming the target audience is the former Obama voting Trump devotee, a person who, right or wrong, thinks he is now in the minority, who assumes that being white has somehow become a liability, despite all evidence to the contrary, and now feels he must pull back into an enclave of reactionary juxtaposition. We aren’t going for the 1% White Lives Matter crowd, they are lost and never wanted to be a part of this new America anyway. Calling out the hypocritical other and also the people who genuinely don’t understand why All Lives Matter is such a divisive statement by appropriating the tag is a tact worth pursuing.
Re-branding as All Lives Matter, re-purposing with inclusion in mind of the people of all races that have been discounted and ignored, bringing in law enforcement of all races to have a dialog about how people are not treated equally and to what degree. Actually TALKING to each other about these vital issues under a moniker that doesn’t seem to exclude.
Maybe All Lives Matter can be a vital starting point to challenge the notion that they do conceptually and working on how they can actually.
Taking advantage of the short memories of Americans to change things in the long-term may be sneaky, but it can also be useful. From a marketing standpoint, it would be as brilliant a coup as turning a brand that had been wrongly associated with Nazi Germany into a brand that appeals to the Spanish-speaking among us.
In the world of spin, anything is possible.
Edited on 5/12 for Typos.
Let me get this out of the way right now, I believe healthcare, the coverage needed to see a doctor on a yearly basis, health maintenance and elder care are rights we should have in the richest, most productive country in the world. Unequivocally, every man, woman, and child who is a citizen of the United States should be covered either privately or under a public option. There is no logical, rational or economic reason we shouldn’t be able to do this. We’ve completely restructured our society and economy around war, which demonstrates a clear threat to us and our livelihoods (or NOT: i.e. every modern war post WW2) we have mobilized against threats both concrete and conceptual and with all our might, forced our country to conform to a new reality, so why can’t we do this to take care of each other?
We cast doubt on the poor and helpless, on people who supposedly drain the resources of the country and take advantage of all the social programs and “freebies” they get handed to them without the reservations or drug testing so prevalent on Wall Street or in Boardrooms. Why is it wrong to give everyone the possibility of a long and better life yet still allow employers and bankers who prey on the very same people the ability to do so with impunity with little or no consequences? When the average high school graduate earns about as much as the average undergrad (yes it’s 2014 data but with rampant income stagnation I highly doubt there is any major movement here) and is saddled with crushing debt its sad that we haven’t made college free as well, but I digress.
We are demonstrating a fratricidal tendency in this country. Instead of being a family, one who takes care of each other keeps each other and tends to each other’s wounds we are poisoning the water of our brother and sisters houses and killing them in the process.
The House’s passing of the revamped, pre-CBO scored so-called American Health Care Act is one of the most disgusting nakedly greedy and soulless pieces of legislation proposed in this decade. It scales back preexisting conditions provisions, creates already fail-proven high-risk pools and removes penalties for not securing coverage with over a dozen more really bad ideas. It does so in the name of “choice” a great buzzword but one that ignores the fact that most of us have none, to begin with. Like the allure of “liberty”, a word so rife with consequential elitism but so unknown in that respect by the average Joe, choice refers to something only really the financial elite possess.
But it is the dream of all of us that we can achieve this freedom. Within the already paralyzing revelation that we really have none, within our increasing levels of control exact 1/10th of 1 percent of our destinies outcome we try so hard to use each other as a measure of that little control we have over our universes. We try, and ultimately fail to become famous, or infamous, we try to be forces for good or notorious, we try to become immortal but in the end, the briefest of times ticks records our deeds.
We believe that our small eternities, our families ticks on the clock, our minuscule appearances upon the universe’s stage actually amount to something grander and we personalize that time to mean “us.” Instead of living like a giant organism and accepting that we all have sympathetic and, dare I say symbiotic, responsibilities. Accepting that our limited choice can be used to serve the greater good or destroy goodwill, makes us vulnerable, and we don’t like that one bit.
So what does all this have to do with snatching health coverage from millions of people, many of which voted for its removal in the first place? Everything.
Our mindset in this country is very different from it is in the rest of the world. We value a strange mix of things that are often at odds with each other, often conflict and sometimes contradict. Our collective identity is at once strong and fragmented, we use patriotism as a blunt object to both unify and divide and we have a national identity that is as much myth as it is fact. We are also very, very young.
Transcending this is a tough task, the reactive tendency to believe what we feel without fact checking what our words actually mean, has put us in a rhetorical bind. We cannot seem to get past the fact that we should be treating each other as family and not warring tribes. We are all Americans. Every man, woman, child, everyone of their decided gender or the genderless, every person who walks as a born or naturalized American citizen is our brother, sister, sibling…
We need to take care of each other, as families often do. We need to look past the Thanksgiving our cousin Guido ruined the family rug with his cigar, or the time Auntie Carol got so drunk she threw up in the newborn’s crib, we have to forgive our nephew Amir for falling in with the wrong crowd and getting caught with a pack of Newports in the school bathroom, we have to stop blaming Xiang for forgetting our birthday, most of all we have to honor not only Crispin and Gary for their commitment to each other and recommit to our family again.
Just because we look and sound a bit different, doesn’t make us any less family.
We should start treating each other that way.
This is why and how journalism still matters.