Whenever I think of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, two things come to mind: sales and whitewashing.
As a capitalist nation, we will frequently throw any social and moral awareness behind a paywall regardless of the original person’s message. The irony of an MLK sale when he was a staunch socialist is not lost. Instead of taking time to actually think about how his message could move us forward, we tend to get much more ingrained in finding the best deal on a mattress.
Secondly, and more nefariously, is the idea of whitewashing. We tend to see our heroes in the image that we want to see, to make them more comfortable for us to honor. Search on social media for Dr. King and you will see people from all over the political spectrum tweeting about “Judging people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” while simultaneously enforcing harsh immigration detentions. On the other hand, people will use the exact same quote to defend people who refuse to get vaccinated. King has frequently been paraded as a way to deflect criticism of people that he would not tolerate if he was here today.
While the whitewashing of MLK has become a time honored political tradition, I’m afraid one more voice has been added to the chorus. With the death of Geroge Floyd it gave America, and the world, a reminder of the system we have created for ourselves. His death will echo throughout our generation and many others. However, history is beginning to repeat itself. Certain people have begun to erase his history for their personal comfort. This is prevalent through the report of the Texas Parole Board voting to clear Mr. Floyd’s record of previous arrests.
While the gesture, on the surface, is seen as a sign of systematic healing, it is in fact a Trojan Horse. In a country that has the highest incarceration in the world, Texas has become the cream of the crop. They are imprisoning more than 100,000 people (as of 2018) in state prisons alone. That, for perspective, is the entirety of Gilroy behind bars twice over. In addition the most common crimes that are in Texas are non-violent drug offenses, the same crime that George Floyd is now being pardoned for. Where is their justice? Should they have to die for the state to recognize that they should be pardoned?
In addition, the systematic issues that led to Mr. Floyd’s 2004 arrest (and his murder a decade and a half later) are still very prevelant. The government has been slow in ensuring social safety nets, so people have a choice between eating and selling drugs. However, due to lack of economic opportunities, poor housing, lack of proper education systems, etc. lead to these instances of selling drugs. These issues are not being addressed and we will see other people just like Mr. Floyd being thrown away by the state as a painful stereotype or a cautionary tale. Instead, they have decided to use Mr. Floyd’s death as an illusion of systematic progress, when they know that Mr. Floyd is simply the next in line.
In reality, this pardon erases reality. Mr. Floyd is not a myth, or a legend. He is a man, who lived a human life that anyone could live. This is the reason his death was so impactful to me and to others: because it could have been anyone, we all saw ourselves. His pitfalls in life are not something to be erased or covered up.
The same applies with Dr. King. Their messages will stretch long after their lives ended, but I want everyone to take this Martin Luther King Jr. Day to realize that we have not come all that far with his ideals, and that progress can be made. The world that they died for is within our grasp, but first we have to take the time and examine in our own lives how to make the lives of the people they fought for better. Then, we should go shopping for a mattress.
Naka Elelleh is an aspiring writer from Gavilan College. Comments? Feel free to email [email protected]