Monday, January 17, 2005

MLK Ceremony

Now after showing what a whiny bitch I can be, I write about the actual MLK ceremony.

The audience was very diverse and the speeches were inspiring. The former CEO of the NAACP was the keynote speaker, and his speech was very well-received. He condemned not only racism from whites, but racism against whites and lectured the black community to take responsibility for the actions of its members instead of looking for blame from the outside. Not quite the victim-mentality that conservatives probably would expect.

The ceremony forwent the classic, "I have a dream" speech in favor of King's other teachings, speeches and positions. One such speech was apparently written during and about the Vietnam war, but was completely applicable to Iraq. Damn it--don't we learn? King's teachings argued against apathy and challenged all good people to constantly be diligent against injustice. This was very inspiring, and I was reminded of a quote along the lines of, "in times like these the place for good men is behind bars" as a response to people who wring their hands at the consequences of action while encouraging people to remain passive and accept the status quo. Also mentioned was that freedoms, advances and rights do not spontaneously rise up from a stagnant pond, but must be fought for.

Many times I have thought where my loyalties and actions would have been throughout other times in history. Would I have been an abolitionist/feminist/pacifist when that was a hard, lonely position? Or would I have ducked my head in the sand, ignoring the suffering of others in pursuit of my own pleasures? For a moment I felt proud and smuggly sure that I would have been among the few people who acted passionately against the majority. Certainly some of my actions show it: biking being a prime example, I protested the war in D.C. in Autumn 2002 and other times, I try to keep my environmental footprint small, I have friends of all races and generally don't discriminate.

But do these actions mean that I should pat myself on the back, sure of my goodness? What about my other thoughts and deeds? Trying to leave a small footprint isn't the same as actually doing it. I am not nearly as diligent about recycling as I should be. I certainly blame many thugs and welfare recipients for their own predicaments, while wrapping myself in my history of self-reliance and bootstrap-pulling--as I overlook the many, many advantages that I had over these people. I don't give money to street beggars and I am more cautious in black neighborhoods than diverse or white communities. So basically, I can talk the talk and sometimes walk along, but often act in the same small ways that the people I condemn do.

Even when my actions are 'proper' my motivations may not be sincere. Do I really bike to be oil-independant, or is that just a benefit? Honestly, I think I do it because I hate driving and biking is fun, sensible, saves me time, saves me money, is good exercise and intangibly makes me quirky and tough. Additionally, now that I am part of the 'bikey community' I also do it to maintain membership and respect. Once I changed social groups, I could simply be described as giving into a better form of peer pressure.

So basically, I bet that I would have been a feminist, abolitionist and pacifist shouting out against different forms of oppression, but with probably more than a streak of hypocrisy. Then, as now, I would implore others to do the right thing without completely taking those actions myself. Dr. King's message about apathy and diligence are just as relevent to me as his comments about the war are today. As in so many areas of my life I hope to do better and to simply live up to the image that I want people to have of me.


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