On this Historic Day

newly revised edition

“to struggle together … to stand up for freedom together”

African Americans do not own Martin Luther King Jr., on this Glenn Beck and I agree. No one but slaveholders own people. But truthfully, aside from a few overly snide liberal pundits, I do not think anyone thinks Beck meant that literally. Instead he was referring to the legacy of King. A legacy of civil rights, social justice, and, nearing the end of his time on this earth, an increasing commitment to global equality and ending violence (including state sanctioned wars without end). In fact, it was his stance on these key issues and his ability to sway people from ALL races, religions, genders, and even sexualities (a feat, since he never spoke out for gay rights), to join in his cause that got him assassinated by white supremacist fearing a message of equality.

Martin Luther King Jr. changed the face of N. America. Along with the help of dedicated women, children, and men from across racial divides, Dr. King put an end to legal discrimination against black people in transportation, employment, education, etc. Yet, in the last few years, radio hosts like Glenn Beck have done their best to foster s well as harness long standing social discrimination and turn it back into law. Thus he argues against access to education, employment, or health care for hardworking indentured undocumented workers, more policing in black and poor neighborhoods because of the fear of black criminality, against marriage equality and even going so far as to criticize fluffy films about upper middle class cis white single working mothers; these are the very people Dr. King stood with and up for.  Worse, Beck and his ilk have tried to make this discrimination and fear the very definition of being N. American. Anyway who supports civil or human rights for the marginalized is transformed into anti-American, non-American, or members of that mythic “Other” America.

So no, African Americans do not own Martin Luther King Jr. but Glenn Beck and his followers will NEVER own another black man again no matter how much they wish they did.

Truthfully, I had not meant to talk about Beck today. You’ll note I seldom mention anyone on Fox News on the blog. I’m old enough to remember when news was somewhat apolitical (somewhat, because the crime reports were always “a black man did …” or “a man did” and often highlighted stories that reinforced similar long held believes about poor people and people of color even as they kept the editorializing about them to a minimum). And before conservatives line up to call me a hypocrite for using footage from MSNBC, one needs only look through this blog or my twitter feed to see that I am just as likely to call them out for race and gender issues as anyone else. More so than Fox news because I expect better of them, and often get it. In my mind the answer to most of Glenn Beck’s antics is: It’s Glenn Beck. Nothing deeper seems warranted when you think about it.

Yet here I am, writing.

There is something so inexplicably demented about a man who spends every day on his radio show inciting or expanding, or simply making space for existing, racism in this country daring to say that he is keeping a dream of equality alive by recreating a history that is only mirrored in the fall of the Weimar Republic and reconstruction in the U.S., particularly in 1865. Like a DW Griffith film, Beck and his ilk have hammered home the idea that there is only one people who can govern and represent a civilized nation and only one solution for everyone else. As a historian, I watched the information coming from Beck surrounding this rally with the knowledge of the history with which Beck has actually aligned. Looking at image after image of his 78-87,000 supporters, there can be no doubt where we are headed or that is decidedly away from any dream Martin Luther King Jr had for this nation.

Glenn Beck wants to make you think it is about a date:

Again, we’re arguing about the date.

He wants you to believe that such a historic date slipped his mind:

I had no idea August 28th was the day of the MLK speech when we booked it. I knew that MLK spoke at the Lincoln Memorial. I knew that it was about the content of character. I knew it was about civil rights and injustice. It knew all of those things, but I’m sorry, media, that I forgot the, oh, so important detail of the date.

And truthfully, Like Jon Stewart, I do find it possible a man who does not think MLK Day should be a national holiday would not know the exact date of the historic I had a Dream Speech. But given the way Glenn Beck has attempted to harness the image of King, Rosa Parks, and even Booker T Washington to advertise for the event, how could anyone believe that he did not know what he was doing? And according to HuffPo, when Beck started advertising this event a year ago, he made several comments on his radio show about the historic date. By calling up actual civil rights leaders he does what others have done with the n-word, ie incensed the opposition to his crusade so thoroughly as to make their arguments sound incomprehensible, condescending, or stuck on a single issue, a word or a date, rather than the much larger issues at stake. And like those people who play victim when caught using the n-word, or yelling “re-load” to those who do, Beck is using this supposed tunnel vision to claim victimhood:

At best, they’re operating in the same old political boxes they usually operate out of: Glenn Beck, bad; Sarah Palin, bad; must destroy.

While I don’t doubt there are a few people who have called for Glenn Beck’s actual destruction, they need mental health services, nor do they have access to a 24 hour network or nationally syndicated radio show. They have not been cited as a reason for actual physical violence involving the shooting of others, as at least two mass shooters and one targeted murderer in the last 2 years have cited Beck and his contemporaries at Fox news for their actions. Nor have they helped create and sustain a movement that includes people who have made threats against the president, against immigrants, queer people, and oh yes, black folks. Nor have any of the people Beck is actually blaming for saying he must be destroyed, actually been guilty of saying so. That is where liberal media and conservative media often definitively part ways. While the Olbermann’s on the left due wax indignant often, and often righteously, very few members of left media would use their radio or tv shows as a place to deify themselves in the name of hatred and violent gun imagery knowing that their supporters are armed and ready “to reload”.

And who exactly is it Beck has invited to stand with him on this historic day in which he claims he is taking the reigns of freedom back from actual civil rights leaders?

  • A woman who responded to the use of the n-word & an angry tirade against interracial dating by saying the speaker should reload & that America was “unfair”
  • A singer whose lyrics for the event include “you preach your tolerance but lecture me” … “we’re taking names; waiting for the judgment day”
  • A country musician who has sponsored events under the title “taking our country back” that has not included more than a handful of people of color if any
  • Members of the 9.12 Project whose racist, xenophobic, and homophobic signs have been archived at the top of my blog (and whose comments on that page further underscore them)
  • A woman willing to bastardize her own family’s legacy to make a single issue point about denying reproductive rights ( a woman whose participation will no doubt be used to legitimate the date of the rally and the erroneous belief the audience and the event were integrated or diverse)

And let us not forget, that Beck’s rally is not only hiding behind the skirts of Alveda King but also the troops. You see, when all of his denials fall away, Beck resorted to calling the people criticizing him anti-American because they were “anti-Troops” and pointing to the fact that his rally supports an organization that helps widows and families of disabled veterans. Never mind that he could have given money to this group without such a rally or that no money will go to them until the expensive venue, advertising, and speaker’s fees have been paid. And let us be clear the Republicans Beck often supports on his show and at least one of his speakers ran with last election, have voted repeatedly against VA benefits, medical care, pensions, and even protective gear for troops all the while claiming to be the party that supports them. Does Glenn Beck rally around that on his show? no.

According to eye witnesses the event also included:

  • a union worker passing out fliers with a picture of Dr. King that criticized the use of Asian laborers in the capital instead of “hardworking [white] Americans” – apparently he did not know Beck has continuously rallied against unions
  • people who came out to prove “the backbone of this country is the family. Messing with the definition of the family is dangerous” – apparently they did not know that heterosexual families include incest, domestic violence, child abuse, and codes of silence that are often generationally transferred as much as they include happy and healthy people
  • people who want to ensure there is no Mosque at ground zero but claim they aren’t anti-Muslim they are just “pro-American” – because apparently no one has told them that there are already Mosques in the area and Muslim Americans exist and have for a considerable amount of time in this country, some even died helping survivors in 9/11
  • and people with genuine criticism for the state of the economy, the lack of community in this nation (tho they don’t note the irony in how this rally is furthering divides rather than healing them), and the cost of education (again failing to recognize that the Republicans tried to block a critical education bill that saved teachers jobs and ensured schools had funding)
  • and people who sent emails or made comments out loud to reporters like these:

This is hardly a scene that mirrors any Martin Luther King Jr would have helmed nor one that reflects the basic principles of civil rights and social justice, something Beck has gone on record as saying he does not support anyway. (On Friday Beck told a radio show host that he did not support social justice.) Instead, 828 just like 912 highlights the growing racial divides and racial tensions in this country between white people and people of color, between white citizens + occasionally citizens of color and non-white immigrants, between white heterosexists + occasionally poc heterosexists and white + non-white queers and allies, between white arch-conservative women + woc pro-lifers and feminists, between arch-conservative protestants and every other religion represented in this country as well as those of us who are Catholic or Protestant who follow G-d’s highest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. While the boundaries of these groups shift to make provisional room for those who can increase their numbers or be put in photo ops to claim diversity, and while people from either side of the binaries can find themselves on the other side because of a single issue that matters more to them than others, the reality is that unlike the diverse multicultural coalition of King, Beck offers us a vision of N. America that is decidedly hierarchical, homogeneous, and willing to police its boundaries with violence. The only thing Beck and his supporters have learned from their last march was to leave the signs at home so it would be easier to play victim when people called them racist, or homophobic, or violent. But he did not tell them, could not tell them, to leave their hatred at home, so it showed up in the things both he and they said to each other and reporters. As Beck said himself:

Make no mistake, the flame of freedom is dwindling. The shining city on the hill, the sun is setting. If you don’t want it to go out on our watch, then you must stand in the blaze. The fire of truth that does not burn those who stand in it, but consumes everything that is not. Point others to the truth.

. . .

If you think things are tough now, you ain’t seeing nothing yet.

“if an American, because his skin is dark cannot … enjoy the full and free life that all of us want, than who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed to stand in his place”

please note the quotes for this piece were taken from Glenn Beck’s broadcast yesterday and not the transcript of his speech today which was unavailable at time of writing

What Does Rand Paul Really Believe?

Rand Paul’s primary win in Kentucky has raised serious concerns about representation in this county (the United States). On the one hand, Paul’s win proves that voting and representational democracy still matter in N. America. While we may disagree with the Tea Party, they are part of the N. American political landscape and they have the right to be represented if they have the votes to back them. On the other hand, the Tea Party’s public face has included racism, homophobia, general ignorance about both economic and political systems in place in the world, and funding from corporations implicated in the health crisis and neo-white supremacy in this country. This is not to say that all Tea Party members are guilty of all of these things, but rather that many, if not all, of these things have been present at the majority of the meetings held by Tea Party members or people representing the Tea party in the media. In this light, Paul’s win signals a major warning sign that discrimination is becoming an accepted part of the public face of our democracy once again. Moreover his own insistence that he is not participating in discrimination (see his statement in response to his MSNBC interviews near the middle of this post as well as youtube below) represents the kind of cognitive dissonance that seems to permeate the movement, so that people can actively engage in discussions, the making of posters, or the proposal of policies that would create wide scale inequality on the basis of identity all the while claiming they support equality.

Last night, Rachel Maddow did her best to nail down Paul’s beliefs about racial discrimination in public spaces. Paul deftly avoided giving definitive answers to her questions by conflating “public space” with “public property.” Public space is any location open to the public, it includes shopping centers, movie theaters, restaurants, etc. Public Property is owned by the government like Parks, Schools, Government Buildings, Libraries, etc. While both types of locations are open to the public, the latter is privately owned. Maddow asked Paul if he believed that public spaces should be allowed to discriminate since he had implied as much on several occasions. Paul responded by saying that regulating public spaces was akin to making private property public property and shifting the discussion to one of government control. In so doing, he directly contradicted the 1964 Civil Rights Act which designates certain privately owned businesses as public accomodations which are thus part of the overarching mandate to serve all people regardless of race. Public accomodations include: hotels, stores, gas stations, and restaurants. In other words, they are places that are necessary for people to have freedom of movement in this country and to interact daily with others with similar freedoms. While some may look at eating out as a choice, imagine trying to go on a business trip for your job when you could not guarantee access to gas for the car, a place to sleep, or somewhere to eat your meals along the way.

People also equated allowing black people to eat in restaurants to allowing guns in a bar where people could then get drunk and shoot each other. Not only are these two things not equitable but the implication is that the very presence of black people predicates violence. During the interview he claimed to be staunchly against violence and to abhor people who engaged in it, yet a spokesperson for Paul at the launch of his campaign admitted to wearing a sweatshirt with KKK on it to the maill and  kept an image of a lynch victim on his Facebook page for 2 years in response to Martin Luther King Day. While Paul eventually fired this man after his campaign took off and people began looking into his background and the background of his campaign team, the decision to include Hightower on his team hardly speaks to Rand Paul’s crafted image of himself as a potential freedom marcher with the late Dr. King or critic of anyone racist or violent.

Paul also avoided discussing concrete examples by claiming that they were historical issues and philosophical rather than concrete concerns. Yet, one needs only look at what sparked the Jena 6 controversy, the recent statement by the Harvard Law student about black people’s intelligence, or the subprime lending practices of Banks that targeted and ghettoized black and brown homeowners to know that discrimination exists here and now. Compare the conditions of schools in South Carolina that serve white students versus those that serve impoverished black ones, or border schools in the American Southwest to similar schools in affluent schools in the Northern regions of those same states and you know that discrimination is alive and well in the public sphere. Anyone who has ever had to shop while black also knows that in some establishments the only thing keeping people from demanding they leave immediately is Civil Rights law and that there have been and continue to be subtle ways that employers, business owners, and others send the message of racial exclusivity even when they cannot actively post it on a wall. The same can be said for other groups as well, just look at the number of same sex couples excluded from Prom, suspended from school, or kicked out all together because they or their parents are queer this year alone. While many of those cases took place in private settings, some of them occurred on public property proving that even Civil Rights is not enough to police growing hatred in this country.

After Maddow’s interview, Paul issued the following statement:

“I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person. I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation. Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.

“As I have said in previous statements, sections of the Civil Rights Act were debated on Constitutional grounds when the legislation was passed. Those issues have been settled by federal courts in the intervening years

“My opponent’s statement on MSNBC Wednesday that I favor repeal of the Civil Rights Act was irresponsible and knowingly false. I hope he will correct the record and retract his claims.”

“The issue of civil rights is one with a tortured history in this country. We have made great strides, but there is still work to be done to ensure the great promise of Liberty is granted to all Americans.

“This much is clear: The federal government has far overreached in its power grabs. Just look at the recent national healthcare schemes, which my opponent supports. The federal government, for the first time ever, is mandating that individuals purchase a product. The federal government is out of control, and those who love liberty and value individual and state’s rights must stand up to it.

“These attacks prove one thing for certain: the liberal establishment is desperate to keep leaders like me out of office, and we are sure to hear more wild, dishonest smears during this campaign.”

Note how he once again avoids addressing the concrete historical and president reasons for why we need Civil Rights Law in all spaces in this nation and how he once again claims “the liberal media” is trying to tear him down because he represents “real Americans.” The spin game is on and Liberals are not the ones doing the spin. Much like what is going on with co-opting feminist imagery, I for one think there is much more at stake than whether or not Rand Paul is a private racist and a public race apologist. If we give bogged down in him as an individual we will lose sight of what he and his win represent.

There is a growing tide of racial antagonism in this country. The Southern Poverty Law Center had been tracking a marked uptick in racism, supremacy, and racial and homophobic incidences since the start of the Bush administration. They warned that the neo-conservative rhetoric put in place in those years was making this country less safe and less cohesive while no one really paid attention. Now we have an entire movement that is predicated on various “state’s rights” and “real Americans’ rights” that are simply rhetorical strategies for expressing fears about difference and a changing political landscape. While some people firmly believe their actions are non-violent, Tea Party rallies have been accompanied by violence and/or rising animosity in the areas in which they have been held. Worse, existing elected officials have courted the Tea Party, engaged and encouraged them, and have ultimately passed or considered passing legislation that reflects the most segregationist tendencies among them. When it became ok to say to the Federal Government “we will secede rather than take financial aid from you” or to pass laws that directly violated civil rights law and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law, people like Rand Paul became an inevitability we should have been working against all along. He is a symptom of a sickness in this nation that has been allowed to spread unchecked for too long, he is not the disease.

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It should also be noted that the discussion of Rand Paul’s comments today have focused exclusively on race but Paul aslo made similar comments about disability rights and his views would make it possible to discriminate in public spaces on the basis of any identity including: gender, sexuality, language, etc. as well as race and ability. While his example of placing workers on the first floor of a building rather than building an expensive elevator may seem reasonable to some, the reality is that workers relegated to a single floor of a business are not integral participants in the business because they cannot move freely, access material or conversations throughout the business, and subsequently can be excluded fairly easily.