Sunday, August 25, 2013

Moral Authority Personified

John Lewis, at yesterday's march on Washington.

It wasn't as large as the original, but it was a big crowd. While these moral giants walk among us, the fake debates about voter "fraud" continue and states like North Carolina pass legislation in the proud American tradition of White tyranny. Those of us on the right side of this fight ought not grant to our opponents the dignity they seek. They don't care about Martin Luther King or anything he stood for, and they need to be called out on it. They are self-deceived. Many of them sincerely believe they agree with the civil rights movement and King's legacy, even as they fight against it.

They claim him as their own even as they despise his living associates. Such is the power of myth. I have never heard a prominent conservative figure criticize Martin Luther King in recent years. Yet John Lewis is widely disparaged. Because of the nature of self-deception, let's be clear about who we're talking about.

We're talking about people who find themselves agreeing with the racial commentary they hear on Fox news. People who think the Republican Party takes a good position on racial issues. People who think talk radio has something worthwhile to say about race. People who read right-wing sites like the Blaze or Breitbart or National Review or, heck, even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and agree with the racial opinions espoused there.

Leave aside what is right or wrong. We're talking about the appropriation of moral authority. All of these outlets are opposed to the civil rights movement, opposed to what King stood for, opposed to one of the only living moral giants of American history, John Lewis. All I ask is that they--and you if you agree with them--stop claiming what is not theirs. Instead of pretending that they agree with what the civil rights movement stood for, these groups need to explain why they, as the intellectual descendants of mid-twentieth century White supremacists, came to have the correct moral view on these issues. And if the White supremacist tradition is the correct moral view, why do they feel the need to claim agreement with the opposing side?

John Stennis, the late segregationist senator I'm studying, would be proud. The precepts of the strategic campaign he and others waged are now so embedded in the fabric of national myth that millions of people who sincerely deplore racism now pursue and support racist policies. I know it is easy to ascribe bad motives to our opponents, but I think the majority of them are genuinely unaware of what they're doing. But then, that's no excuse. After all, most segregationists sincerely believed they had the best interests of Blacks at heart.

4 comments:

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    1. Say what?! Really? How was your experience?

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  2. To be honest, it was an accident. We were going down for the Bills game and realized on our way that the march was occurring. However, once we knew about it, we asked around and made it a priority to be involved. I even caved and bought a commemorative lanyard from one of the many people selling things in the midst of the crowds, hehe. It was great. Although I certainly didn't hear John Lewis speak (by the time we made it to the Lincoln Memorial, the crowd was so packed in you couldn't quite make out what the speakers were saying), it was quite memorable just from seeing all of the people, hearing what they had to say, their signage, etc. Two older women were carrying a sign that read, "We marched in 1963." Almost brought us to tears. I desperately wanted to ask if I could take their picture, but by the time I pulled my phone out and brought up the camera I had lost them in the crowd and couldn't find them again despite my best efforts.

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    1. That's awesome. I'm glad you had that experience. And happy birthday by the way!

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