Monday, January 21, 2008

Broadening The Lens

It always makes me happy when Sarah Vowell has an OpEd in the New York Times. She's one of my favorite authors, and I was fortunate enough to have dinner with her my freshman year. I wish she would write for the Times more often - but she hates short, deadline pieces, preferring the freedom of essays and novels. My loss. Anyways, today is Martin Luther King Day, and Vowell has a column in the Times reflecting on King and modern Christianity, called "Radical Love Gets A Holiday". She includes a very powerful King quote I had not heard before, from 1957:

“So this morning, as I look into your eyes and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you: ‘I love you. I would rather die than hate you.'"

Wow. "I would rather die than hate you." That's enough to make even the most ardent social justice activist rethink the concept of hate.

Another article, the AP's "Popular view of King ignores complexity," makes the point that King was not just an anti-segregationist, but a Christian preacher who fought for striking workers and for the poor, and against Vietnam and the draft. Our modern narrative ignores so much of his work, perhaps doing his memory - and his causes - a major disservice. Princeton Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell says that King was widely disliked at the time of his assassination, and "If we forget that, then it seems like the only people we can get behind must be popular. Following King meant following the unpopular road, not the popular one... It's not OK to slip into flat memory of who Dr. King was, it does no justice to us and makes him to easy to appropriate. Every time he gets appropriated, we have to come out and say that's not OK."

As a reminder that Dr. King stood for more than a few buses and lunch counters, here is a video from another man fighting for the same things.

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