Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Experts Ask: Is MLK Overrated?

Article written by George Stefano Pallas.  Views and bad writing expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect nor should be construed as those of the Author.


With the partisan gridlock so deeply ingrained in the political process and culture itself, Americans usually welcome opportunities to put their differences aside and join in the collective celebration of a noble person or ideal.  Whatever one thinks of the long war on terror, people of all creeds and convictions can unite on 9/11 Day to remember and raise awareness of the tragedy that enveloped thousands in an instant.  In the same manner, whether or not one supports a living wage for all of the middleclass’ workers and the preservation of the earth’s resources for one’s great-great-great-great-cubed-grandchildren, everybody can find common ground on Labor and Earth Day respectively.

The public gathered this Monday to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his transformative views on income inequality, LGBT rights, Stop and Frisk, Stand Your Ground laws, and the racially skewed makeup of the SNL cast, but revealing studies released on the dawn of the reverend’s birthday have unfortunately spoiled the mood for many of the occasion’s most enthusiastic devotees.  Vice-President Joe Biden summarized many American’s beliefs when he declared King the “first sort-of mainstream African-American who was articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” but apparently his admiration isn’t universal.

Joint research by the history, political science, and English departments of Princeton University and Harvard has found that King’s famous I Have A Dream speech – the same that Americans called attention to five months ago on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2 – is unremarkable from a historical perspective and far overshadowed by more elaborate and memorable speeches.

The professors and interns who conducted the investigations assessed the strengths of numerous famous orations in 5 categories – persuasiveness, organization, delivery, execution, and assertiveness –, ultimately ranking I Have A Dream behind other iconic moments like President Barack Obama’s United Nations address, Michael Bay’s CES presentation, Heath Ledger’s accepting comments at the 2009 Oscars, and Bill Clinton’s inspirational rally at last year’s DNC.  Says the director of the groundbreaking scientific report, Hugh Gore Black, “No one should make the mistake of assuming that we’re flatly dismissing King or his defining speech, nor should anyone make the mistake of assuming that King’s defining speech is completely without flaw or comparison.”

The key findings of the study are outlined as follows:
* “King immediately opens on a note that’s equally arrogant and whiny, leaving a sour taste in his spectators’ senses that doesn’t completely fade even once he gets to the emotional high point of his argument.  Associating himself with Abraham Lincoln and declaring that he is currently engaged in ‘the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation’, King comes across as a narcissist who’s absorbed simultaneously in extreme pride and extreme self-pity, especially when he laments that the Negro is not yet free, ‘badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination’, inhabiting ‘a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity’.”
 * “By equating himself to a slave in post-Reconstruction America, King desensitizes his audience to the atrocities of real slavery in much the same way that gays who sell their campaigns for ‘marriage equality’ as a civil rights issue dull people’s intellects to the magnitude of the real civil rights movement and the injustice of a government that segregates its citizens by race.”
 * “King uses a gratuitous and long-winded banking metaphor to describe the Declaration of Independence and America’s failure to abide by its self-evident truths.”
 * “King uses the words ‘brotherhood’ and ‘justice’ and ‘police brutality’ repeatedly without explaining what they mean to him.”
 * “King insists that he has dreams.  Lots and lots of them, all basically tooting the same horn.”

In the summary appended to the document, the research group accorded the King’s speech a shockingly low score of 24.9 points out of a possible 25.  The verdict illustrates a vast disparity between the American people’s reception of King’s words and the quality of the words themselves.  When asked by USA Today/Gallup surveyors about I Have A Dream around last year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2, 95% of respondents, ±3 percentage points, were able to cite at least four words of the speech from memory without aid.

“It was obviously a very powerful and moving day for a lot of people,” remarked Tanishia Brown at the time, a worker for the Military Leadership Diversity Commission present at the scene of the Mock March on Washington.  “It didn’t matter if you were black or white, religious or rational, gay or straight, Democrat or Republican – his message of fairness and equality rang out and connected with everybody.  Martin Luther King had a dream that an African-American president might someday occupy the White House, and thanks to his work that dream has come true.”

It’s no surprise then that prominent representatives of the African-American community have rushed to censure the controversial results of the study.  Entertainment queen Oprah Winfrey said, “The Princeton-Harvard review of Mr. King’s speech is just more hard proof that America has a long way to go before we have completely eliminated the influence of Racism.  I’ve had a lot of personal encounters with racism in the last year, from being turned out of designer clothing stores and being overlooked in the awards races, but this is the most hurtful blow to me and my people’s dignity yet.”

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee went even further in her defense of King.  “If not for the passionate rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., I would still be bound by the chains of second-class citizenship and discrimination.  Thanks to him, I stand here before you a freed slave.”

Conversation over MLK and what causes he would advocate if he were alive today will persist for many years, but race relations between white and black America will only grow broader so long as divisive studies like this continue to be commissioned and published.

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