Legacy

Every year I see further evidence that Dr. King’s legacy is not being honored so much as perverted. I got this spam e-mail last week advertising an event in downtown New Orleans:

Down with the King

You really need to view the full-size original to soak in every little detail.

That the ad refers to “the King” and uses the image of a crown to create a visual pun is a little disturbing, but that’s a minor quibble. Obviously Dr. King has passed into the realm of iconography.

No, what really bothers me about this image is the attractive female model. She’s wearing a crown, symbolizing Dr. Martin Luther King. The expression on her face seems to define the come-hither stare. And what’s that she doing? Well, she seems to be lifting her skirt up.

Using sex appeal to hype a nightclub. Nothing new there. Using a civil rights icon to make a buck. Seen it before. But the combination of the two takes it to a new level for me. Consider also those persistent rumors of Dr. King’s philandering, and this advertisement is looking pretty ugly.

And is my imagination overactive, or is Obama looking up her skirt? That’s just wrong.

I don’t presume to judge the model, or anyone really. I just find this image is sadly indicative of a larger pattern, a pervasive lack of respect for a great human being.

“Every Man a King”

Huey Long’s populist message for the people of Louisiana was “Every Man a King.” Wouldn’t it be something if we updated that to the idea that every man, woman and child in these parts should emulate Martin Luther King?

King was a great American philosopher, perhaps the greatest. It pains me to realize how little we’ve learned from his teaching. His birthday has become a day to celebrate black pride. I’m all for black pride, believe me, but I think this sends the message to whites that King has nothing to say to them. That’s wrong. Worse, to some, his birthday has become just another day off work. In pre-Katrina New Orleans there was usually a parade that resembles a rehearsal for Mardi Gras, with plenty of glad-handing politicians and messages of peace and justice relegated to the margins.

Last year thing were different. Real different.

Tomorrow, Xy & I are thinking to participate in this event:

MLK DAY 2007
People’s Reopening of Public Housing

On MLK Day 2007 public housing residents and other supporters of the right of return will conduct a people’s reopening of New Orleans public housing. Drawing upon the same spirit that galvanized Martin Luther King Jr. in his life’s quest for social justice public housing residents and their allies will challenge the immoral and criminal lockout of Katrina survivors from their homes in public housing. That 6,000 desperately needed units of affordable housing sit empty while New Orleanians endure the most severe housing shortage in the city’s history is an obscenity. That Katrina survivors die almost every day from heartbreak, at least in part, because the government and its corporate paymasters refuse to respect their right of return, is a reality.

Let’s put an end to this ugly reality. Join us on January 15th 2007. We shall rally. We shall march. We shall reopen!

January 15, 2007 (MLK DAY)
10am till
3838 St. Bernard Avenue
New Orleans

For information contact:
Sharon Jasper (504) 324-3657
Lynette Bickham (504)-723-4893
Stephanie Mingo (504) 529-3171

Sponsors: New Orleans Public Housing Residents, United Front For Affordable Housing and C3/Hands Off Iberville.

PLEASE FORWARD ASAP.

The cause is just. We produced a silly little video about this issue six months ago, but the subject is a serious one. I know lots of neighbors are afraid of the public housing developments, afraid that re-opening them will recreate pockets of concentrated poverty and crime. I’ve got reservations myself, as public housing developments resemble concentration camps to me. But the answer to that is to revise the social contract with public housing residents, not to demolish thousands of habitable apartments at a time when the city’s suffering a massive shortage of housing. More to the point, not reopening these units seems to be further destabilizing our city.

My skepticism regards the organizers. On two separate occasions over the last year, groups I’m working with have been criticized by some of these folks for not joining their struggle. No attempt to build alliances or coalitions, no attempt to reach out, just harsh words and strident rhetoric. They’ll probably denounce me as a bourgeois accommodationist if they ever read this. Still, I’d like to think we can work together.

I’m also not ready for another day of rage. My heart is still heavy and I’m in a kind of emotionally fragile state.

But the above event seems to be the only thing planned in Orleans Parish. So we’ll probably go, but I’d be interested to know of anything else.

Update: We went, and it was an inspiring event indeed. Residents opened the fence and reclaimed their apartments. No one was arrested. I helped carry out a refrigerator. There’s so much that should be said about this event but time as ever is slipping away, so I refer you to photos by dsb nola and narrative by Dangerblond and The Book, in two parts, plus video.

MLK

Xy and I ventured to the Lower Ninth Ward Monday morning. Caffin and Claiborne is where the Martin Luther King Day parade traditionally begins. In the past, this parade has seemed like a rowdy dress rehearsal for Mardi Gras, almost completely detached from anything recognizable as a legacy of Dr. King.

But this year things were different. The official parade was moved to another location. The event in the Lower Ninth Ward was mostly attended by white political activists. (We were solicited on behalf of the Revolutionary Communist Party as soon as we arrived.) Considering that the Lower Ninth Ward is such a celebrated black community, I found this pretty depressing. Of course, the setting was also depressing. The Lower Nine is in bad shape these days. Houses are falling over or falling apart. Many have floated off their foundations and sit cockeyed, in another yard or in the street.

MLK Day March

All of this might have been offset by messages of hope, but those were few and far between. Most of the voices raised were raised in anger. People were angry about many things, but mainly at the suggestion that the Lower Nine might not be rebuilt. King’s demand for justice resonated, but his message of universal love was not in evidence. I understand the anger, and the confusion, but I’m skeptical that this event and the attendant rhetoric helped anyone much. Still, there was such passion that I think this neighborhood will be rebuilt, somehow, someway.

Meanwhile, at the “official” parade, Mayor Nagin appeared to lose his mind entirely. He claimed to have spoken to Dr. King himself that morning. He said that the hurricanes we’ve suffered through were God’s punishment for our military presence in Iraq. Maybe he and Pat Robertson should form a club.

(You can listen to the mayor’s speech and decide for yourself if he’s crazy or not.)

Plagiarizing the Dream

Xy assigned her students to write a short essay reflecting on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. One student turned in a neatly typewritten sheet. He claimed he wrote it himself, but the fact mere fact that it was neatly typewritten was enough to tip Xy off. Turns out it was the very text of the “I Have a Dream” speech itself. Xy confronted the student, but he stood his ground, insisting it was his own. She was really pissed off at the time, but when she told me, I thought it was hilarious.