Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Thoughts

Originally posted January 16, 2017

Jerry often has an interesting perspective on things.

I was passing by him today and stopped to see how he was doing. Jerry’s homeless, but not helpless – he picks up odd jobs along Broadway for “cigarettes, beer, and a burger,” and is very upbeat and conversational. “Can’t complain… I’m above ground,” is how he usually responds to questions about his day.

Today, he provided a comment which had me thinking for a while: “Martin Luther King Day. Only thing people see is a day off, and not what the man’s ideas were. Folks complain about Columbus Day and protest Thanksgiving, but all’s they know about Martin Luther King is that he had a dream.”

Later, I was mulling over these words and the tenacity King showed when confronted with attempts to blackmail and discredit him as well as his famous words and the relation they have with current trends. King advocated freedom and justice for all, and the words of King’s famous 1963 speech in Washington Jerry mentioned are, for the most part, all which remains of his legacy in the fickle public memory:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I say “fickle public memory” mostly because the media – social and traditional – seem to forget the importance of other parts of the speech admonishing efforts which are essentially “drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” The apparent trend lately seems to be the establishment of fixed and entrenched perspectives with race, religion, and politics as the weapons.

Don’t believe me? Just read pretty much any comment section of an article or shared Facebook post and see how far you get before someone blames a political party makes an accusation of whatever “-ism” fits the context of the commentary.

The Civil Rights Movement sought to bring the U.S. from the lingering effects of slavery and the utterly failed attempt at Reconstruction following the American Civil War, a century prior. However, in following the media (again, traditional and social), I am starting to maintain the opinion that slavery hasn’t really gone away, it just transitioned from one form to another; instead of being physically bound, American society is being intellectually chained. Slavery for the mind, and the media has become the Master.

Journalistic trends during the past few months have turned the air sour with accusations and animosity. Using the aforementioned analogy of trenches and weapons, the opinions, statements, and commentary have used race, religion, and politics almost with the same frequency and intensity as a First World War battlefield used artillery. Facts have become an expendable commodity and have been supplied by the closest depot to the lines. If one leans left, they will select only the shells supplied by the stockpile on the left, and vice versa for the conservatives. Consideration for the contrary position was a casualty early on, and the art of debate has become a stagnant battlefield of the same tactics over the same contested ground. In this case, the generals running the battle have abbreviations instead of pin-on rank: “CNN,” “FOX,” “MSNBC,” ect…

Which leads me to the issue of professional ethics in journalism – you know, those things that exist only in concept, it seems. “Provide context,” “identify sources clearly,” and “label advocacy and commentary” are some of the tenets provided by the Society of Professional Journalism under the ideal that “ethical journalism should be accurate and fair.” Political involvement is explicitly addressed as well, though both the SPJ’s “Code of Ethics” and “Position Paper on Political Involvement” are neither legally binding or absolute. Unfortunately, none of these ideas seem to be adhered to by the media on a regular basis.

Going back to my original idea, King’s tenacity remains admirable to this day. The U.S. has come a long way over the last couple of centuries, and there remains much more progress to be made in terms of realizing his dream of judgment of people being solely based on the “content of their character.” The changes to our society were not overnight, and they were not an easy process. Instead, they were the results of men and women determined and tenacious enough to think, act, and strive for their own independence from the contemporary ideals and realities. Today, our slavery is one of spirit and desire to be better people, free from the preconceived ideas and attitudes we are encouraged to maintain. What the future holds is what we are willing to pour into it, and freedom is about accepting that which you cannot immediately change with the intent and effort to make changes for the better later.

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