Monday, January 18, 2010

How Do You Celebrate?

by Dick Mac

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the United States.

It is a federal holiday that was signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1983. It was not enacted as a law in all fifty states until 2000. Make of that what you will, I conclude that since American culture in the United States is still intrinsically bigotted (not just racist, per se), it's a wonder that it's a holiday at all.

Most companies use the holiday as a sort of bargaining chip: we'll give you this day off, but you'll have to work another holiday. It's never really been accepted as a valid holiday. Even Senator John McCain, the man who almost became second fiddle to Sarah Palin, opposed the holiday for decades.

In some ways, the designation of the holiday proves that the United States is working to eradicate racism and see people of color as equal to all other citizens.

In American society, the best measure of 'equality' is your place in the market. Capitalism abhors a vacuum, and you know you are making inroads when marketing is aimed directly at you. Blacks can look at this insulting measure of your station with the same dismay women and homosexuals can see themselves: think menthol cigarettes in the sixties, astrology swag in the seventies, BET in the eighties, hip-hop in the nineties, and sub-prime loans in the noughties. If the marketplace acknowledges you as a market and then aims marketing strategies directly to your group, then you are making inroads. Sad, I know, but true.

So, how does Dr. King relate to hip-hop and astrology swag? Well, he doesn't really, of course, except in the most tenuous way.

King was a pacifist, the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, an orator, an activist, a Christian, an American, and a hero to all who truly believe in the Bill of Rights.

I am a fan of Dr. King's, and I remember clearly the day of his assassination and the mind-numbing aftermath in urban America. The name "James Earl Ray" is burned into my memory.

In his last speech, King said:

I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.

We are all still on a journey to the promised land of American freedom: pink, brown, beige, young, old, rich, poor, male and female.

Here is his most famous speech, a speech that most of us learned about after his death:

So, how do we celebrate Martin Luther King Day? Is there a parade? Do we shop? Go to church? Host a party? Watch a movie?

I don't know!

How will you celebrate Dr. King's holiday?

I look forward to seeing you during our continued journey to the promised land.


Some links:

The King Center

Martin Luther King, Jr., at

The Reverend and the President-Elect, by Dick Mac (2009)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Dick Mac (2008)

Photo of MLK statue in the nave of Westminster Abbey. Nicked from the site. Used without permission. Forgiveness is begged.

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