Monday, January 16, 2006

On Martin Luther King Day, Everybody's Black!

Today is Martin Luther King Day, the day we celebrate the great Civil Rights Martyr. Dr. King is a mythic figure in America. Like Lincoln, he towers over his era and his accomplishments, a messianic, Christ-like image (though I’m sure, as a minister, Dr. King would be uncomfortable with that statement). Unlike Malcolm X or the Kennedys, King’s death sits symbolically as the redemptive sacrificial act of our culture in the sixties. Like Christ he expected to be killed. Like Christ his untimely and wicked death caused a profound change in the world (or at least in America). Yes, the Civil Rights movement was succeeding at the time—this is likely a big reason why King was murdered—but his death showed there was so much more to be done. And there is a collective guilt, sorrow and revulsion that this man of peace was so horribly and violently taken away from us. King, like Lincoln and Christ, died for all our sins.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, and is extolling us to enjoy a “King-size celebration,” and offering a guide to “Events and restaurants for MLK Day.” The guide itself is labeled “African American Scene in your city,” and shows a picture of four smiling black folk that could practically be a poster for a minstrel show. The guide offers a list of local events and concerts (buy tickets here), including our own local “Martin Luther King Day in Historic Harlem,” plus a guide to "Hot Spots owned by Black Celebs" accompanied by a very nice picture of Diddy. As Jameson points out, in a market economy postmodernism turns everything into a commodity and every group into a potential market, so it should come as no surprise that MLK Day, like every other holiday, has been commodified. Perhaps this is where his dream leads after all, to a land where black people can be exploited in the same way white people are, a land where his children can be judged neither by the color of their skin nor the content of their character, but by the purchasing power of their money. It’s a type of freedom, anyway.


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