Thursday, March 13, 2008

MLK and Identity Politics

by Melvin Bray

The 40th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination - April 4, 1968 - will soon be upon us. As I remember Dr. King against the backdrop of this 2008 presidential election cycle, I reflect on what a brilliant political strategist he was. He was able to bring corporations to the point of acquiescence without resorting to violence or bribery. He was able to pass legislation that changed the daily lives of not only blacks but also women, people of faith, and immigrants - without ever being elected to public office or attempting to buy political influence. He was able to garner and leverage the attention of the entire international community on behalf of America's poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised - without ever being appointed to an ambassadorship or other high-profile international post. He was able to remind U.S. citizens what a democracy was and to engender a sense of moral responsibility that, more than 40 years later, challenges us to be the good we want to see in the world. King was a political genius.

With a vision this grand, one would think that the lion's share of King's work would have been on the national and international stage, yet somehow King expected to bring all this about by local, contextual, direct action: organizing to gain political access and self-determination for Blacks, advocating on behalf of unemployed Appalachian whites, striking with sanitation workers. I believe his ability to accomplish each of these things was predicated on a very simple, but profound realization: All politics are identity politics. The question is: whom does one choose to identify with?

1 comment:

  1. Well spoken. Definitely a question as to which gods a person identifies with: