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Archive for the ‘MLK’ Category

In  the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King expresses his views concerning obtaining equal rights among the different races in the United States. He seeks “direct action” in order to reach a conclusion consisting of negotiation. He aimed to create tension with nonviolent action such as sit-ins and social justice rallies. Most importantly, however, the purpose of this letter was to explain his justification of breaking laws in order to create this tension.

He offered an answer to the question “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” To this he responded by quoting St. Augustine: “an unjust law is no law at all.” His definition of a just law simply follows basic morality and is “the law of God.” An unjust law, on the other hand, does not concern God and is, rather, set by man to limit others. For example, laws segregated minorities, according to Dr. King, were unjust laws and subject to be broken in order to allow for social justice.

These unjust laws, according to Dr. King, must still be treated respectfully; therefore, those seeking justice must congenially accept the punishments for breaking these laws. This is an important step in King’s theory of civil disobedience.

When considering the unfair treatment of colored minorities before and during the life of Dr. King, civil disobedience makes sense. They were deliberately and publicly banned from businesses and treated atrociously. The laws against them were, in fact, unjust, created solely for discrimination.

When discussing “minorities,” race is the most common image in someone’s mind, but what many American citizens fail to realize is the segregation and discrimination of sexual minorities in our country. A current political hot topic is that of gay marriage, which, currently, is illegal. People of every dysfunctional walk of life in the United States is allowed the benefits of a marriage, as long as their relationship is heterosexual.

What I wonder, therefore, is how can Dr. King’s civil disobedience apply, not only to racial minorities, but also to sexual ones. Sit-ins and marches occur constantly, thanks to LGBTQ programs across the country. They help construct the tension Dr. King discussed (more tension than conservative political leaders already have toward the gay community).  This form of direct action is apparent. What is missing, however, is the ability for the sexual minorities to break laws that we find unjust.

I am not, in any way, asking for more discrimination against the LGBTQ community. What I am offering, instead, is the reasoning why, perhaps, many people in the country do not bother with the fight for sexual justice. No laws exist against us, except for the prevention of homosexual marriage, a law that we simply cannot break. Without the ability to demonstrate to our heterosexual brothers and sisters which laws we simply will not abide by, we are unable to create the escalated tension intended by Dr. King in his pursuit of justice.

Our only option, therefore, is the meager attempts at assembly, which can be so easily ignored by those who chose to. We cannot be noticed because we are not breaking any laws.

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Throughout history there have been various views of man in terms of his social relationships and subsequent forming of political structures. Aristotle (in his Politics) observed, “man is by nature a political animal.” Man’s behavior can be studied according to psychological principles. Given this fact, the political behavior of people may be subject to Freudian analysis. Sigmund Freud described the functioning of personality as being the result of the dynamic interaction of the id, the ego, and the superego. The id, according to Freud, is a boiling cauldron of desires and drives (i.e. sexual and aggressive) and operates on the pleasure principle, demanding immediate gratification. The id is felt to be the most basic state of an infant’s psyche. The superego is the polar opposite of the id. It operates as the voice of conscience and establishes internalized principles for the controls of one’s desires, as generated by the id. The ego is the emotionally conscious portion of the personality that mediates between the unchecked desires of the id and the overly rational demands of the superego. The ego operates on the reality principle, seeking to satisfy the id’s desires in a realistic manner. (David G. Myers, Psychology. 8th edition, New York, Worth Publishers 2007, p. 598.)

In terms of political theory, Thomas Hobbes viewed the state of man as being the id incarnate. He viewed the fundamental nature of man as being a constant state of “war, where every man is enemy to every man…there is no place for industry…and which is worst of all, continual fear, and the danger of violent death; and the life of man, [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Wootton, p. 159). Where Hobbes was mistaken lies in his failure to recognize that man is not merely a political animal, but a social animal. We know that even subhuman mammals, such as dolphins, exhibit cooperative behavior and altruism. At the other extreme, Socrates believed that man was capable of being all superego. He believed that man could be completely rational, and pursued this concept by causing people to rationally reexamine their entire belief system. Socrates found, “in [his] investigation of the service of the god…that those who had the highest reputation were nearly the most deficient, while those who were thought to be inferior were more knowledgeable” (the Apology, 26). Socrates’ fatal mistake was his failure to recognize that man is not merely a political animal, he is also an animal, and as such, is not an entirely rational being. Pointing out to an irrational person that he is, in fact, irrational doesn’t make him any more rational, but does tend to make him angry.

In the best dialectical sense, Martin Luther King, Jr. embodied the principles of the Freudian ego. Dr. King recognized that man embodies both superego and id, and that the reality principle dictates that the ego must find a way of satisfying both these forces. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” MLK stated that, “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” (p. 4). King did not advocate defying the law altogether, but did think that “one who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty” (p. 5). Dr. King understood the importance of rationally defying an unjust law, while making an emotional appeal to the conscience of a nation by being willing to accept even the violent and deadly consequences.

MLK succeeded where both Hobbes and Socrates failed: it was Locke’s philosophy, not that of Hobbes, that won the attention of our Founding Fathers; Socrates was executed for his efforts. Dr. King utilized the reality principle of the ego to achieve an effective balance between American society’s superego and id.

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Dr. King’s Real Dream

Near the end of a discussion, my GSI posed a question: Would Dr. Martin Luther King support Affirmative Action? I was one of the two students who argued he would be in support of this reversed discrimination. Opponents argued that it would perpetuate perceptions of inequality and further the historical view of African Americans being inadequate and superior. At the end of the discussion, my GSI said that indeed Dr. King would support Affirmative Action. Although I believe this argument is subjective, I agreed with her. Through his leadership in SCLC, his protesting and influence in passing the Civil Rights Act, and his will to ensure equal justice for our future, it is evident that Dr. King would support Affirmative Action.

Affirmative Action first started in the early 1960s when President Kennedy introduced an executive order mandating that all public employees have equal opportunities regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin. Dr. King was alive when the program was first introduced and was able to witness the triumph in his accomplishments when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, mandating equal education and work opportunities in the public sector. Dr. King was a major influencing in pressuring the US Congress to pass the CRA and heavily support section VII, which essentially frames the intent of affirmative action. After King’s death, Affirmative Action began to expand and encompassed disabled Americans as well as women.

The term “affirmative action” was not official until after his death, but the first indirect affirmative action campaign, “Operation Breadbasket”, was led by Dr. King and SCLC. In an interview with Stephen Oates, Dr. King stated that “a society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro” to compete on a just and equal basis”. According to Oates, Dr. King didn’t approach affirmative action as reverse discrimination, rather, he as a incomplete conclusion to help further racial equality. Dr. King concluded that “collective problems require collective solutions.” Affirmative Action monitored by the government would be an effective solution to ensure equality in all spheres of the social norms in America.

Opponents argue that Dr. King would be disgraced that we continue some type of form of discrimination based on race. Louisiana, Governor Mike Foster, presented Dr. King’s opinions when signing an executive order to abolish affirmative action. “I can’t find anywhere in King’s writing” he told the New York Times “that King wanted reverse discrimination. He just wanted to end all discrimination based on color.” The majority of my classmates agreed with Gov. Foster saying that Dr. King would find Affirmative Action completely absurd and furthering the separation between races. Also, opponents argue that Dr. King’s famous words “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” shows that affirmative action is just paralyzing our nation and teaching races that their skins color will historically be worth more than their character.

However, political theorists and even Supreme Court Justices are ready to put behind remedies of past injustices and create a new, completely equal America. In Justice O’Connor’s decision in Grutter v. Bollinger she statesit probably would be better if we could remedy the racial gap in academic achievement long before application for college admission”. She hoped that affirmative action would end in the next 20 years, yet perhaps her prediction came true. In 2006, Prop 2 was passed in Michigan banning Affirmative Action in public universities. The contagious debate of affirmative action has yet to end. Only in California and Michigan have citizens ended this remedy. Perhaps the country is ready to move forward and put all discrimination based on race behind them, or perhaps they are turning a blind eye to the historical discrimination Dr. King peacefully protested.

 

Works Cited

Schmidt, Peter. “Sandra Day O’Connor Says Affirmative Action Faces Uncertain Future.” The

Chronicle N.p., Apr. Web. 20 Nov. 2009.

<http://chronicle.com/article/Sandra-Day-O-Connor-Says/38513>.

 

Rockwell, Paul. “The Forgotten Teachings of Martin Luther King.” In Motion Magazine NPC

Productions, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2009. <http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/mlk3.html>.

 

Rockwell, Paul. “Recasting MLK as an Affirmative Action Opponent.” Race, Racism, and the

Law University of Dayton, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2009.

<http://academic.udayton.edu/Race/04needs/affirm25.htm>.

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Tomorrow, Friday the 13th, marks an ominous day in my hometown. In Bethesda, Maryland, at Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School the infamous Westboro Baptist Church is coming to protest a number of student run groups on campus. At my high school, they are protesting The Diversity Club, The Feminist Club, The Gay Straight Alliance, The Jewish Culture Club, and The Special Olympics Club. All of these clubs are well known at my school for fostering acceptance and tolerance for all people worldwide. This Westboro protest really strikes home for me because I know a number of friends in these clubs and can personally attest that what they advocate and promote are both progressive and peaceful ideas not the kind to be protested. The Westboro Baptist Church is known nationwide for its controversial protests of LGBT groups and its radical beliefs about homosexuality. There was a prominent play entitled The Laramie Project, which document one of their protests at Matthew Shepard’s funeral, because he was gay. Their website is here for those interested in learning more about them http://www.godhatesfags.com/. The most interesting part of this controversy, however, is the student’s reactions. Our high school has issued a request that students do not cause too much of a commotion due to the protest and want any counter-protest to be silent and peaceful. Students at my high school created two rival facebook groups to combat the protest, one entitled “Counter Protest Against Westboro Baptist Church!” focused on being “a SILENT and PEACEFUL protest” And the other “VOCALLY protest Westboro!!!” which advocated disobeying the high school administration’s request for a silent protest. These two opposite protest methods seem highly reminiscent of the Civil rights movement and both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X’s theories on protest. Like the civil rights movement, Gays and Lesbians across the country are currently denied their civil rights and groups like the Westboro Church are likened to racists and anti-civil rights supporters back in the 1960’s.  In their respective essays, A Letter from a Birmingham Jail and The Ballot or the Bullet, both King and X argue for their protesting methods. I believe that were they alive today King and X would support the corresponding methods by which students are counter-protesting.  In his essay, King states that “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” In this case, the nonviolent, non-vocal, and peaceful protest of the first group personifies King’s ideals. They create tension through counter-protest, while simultaneously bringing positive attention to the cause because of their respectful dissent to their opponents. Malcolm X on the other hand advocates a different type of protest. In his essay, X says that we should remain “nonviolent as long as the enemy is nonviolent” By being vocal and trying to instigate emotional and negative responses, the Westboro church, by X’s standards, validates an equally vocal response. The Westboro church is known for trying to spark emotional responses to their protests. One of the main concerns that both the students of the first group and the school administration share is that the Westboro Group loves attracting news coverage through the response that those they are protesting provide. The harsher the reaction to their protest, the more coverage they can generate. The debate becomes this: which is a better method of protesting? I believe, in both this situation and the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King’s protesting strategy has many more positive results. It is responsible of the majority of students, shown through the number of members in the respective Facebook groups, to choose to silently protest. They show their disagreement with the church’s views while simultaneously being respectful, more mature, and denying them their desired press coverage. Just like in the Civil Rights Movement, being peaceful and passive makes their opponents look worse for seeming more radical. The excessive force used to put down the non-violent protests generated a lot of positive media coverage for the movement. In this case, by being peaceful and silently rejecting the church’s protest, B-CC students will rise above their opponents. Simultaneously, if the students had adopted X’s ideals in their protest they would be playing into the hands of their opponents by generating more media coverage. In conclusion, it is easy to see why King’s strategy for protesting is a superior one, both in the Civil Rights Movement and for tomorrow. By being peaceful and not regressing to emotional responses, protesters can make their message heard and seem mature and right while doing it.

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I found Malcolm X’s argument compelling.  I especially liked when he talked about not being an American.  I was fascinated by this concept, I have never really thought about being an American.  He said “I am not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate and call myself a diner.”  That is an interesting concept.  How does one define what makes them American?  Being born here? Malcolm would say not “As long as you and I have been over here, we aren’t Americans yet- If you and I were Americans there would be no problem.”  He is saying that African Americans are second class citizens, that because their votes are not counting, they cannot even consider themselves Americans.  “They don’t have to pass civil rights legislation to make a Polack and American.”  He says that the government that they voted in has been a waste of a vote, the administration “has seen fit to pass every kind of legislation imaginable, saving you until last, then filibustering on top of that.” 

He says that the black man “doesn’t intend to turn the other cheek any longer.”  “They haven’t got anything to lose, and they’ve got everything to gain.  And they’ll let you know in a minute: ‘It takes two to tango; and when I go, you go.’”  I realize that Malcolm X said “by any means necessary,” but I feel that he would never have even talked about taking the movement to violence if there had been another option.  I think that when you back people into corners for a long enough amount of time, they will strike back.  I feel that Malcolm would have been all for MLK’s non-violent campaign if it had worked more quickly.  His problem was that the black man had waited too long to be given what had already belonged to him.  “How can you thank a man for giving you what’s already yours?  You haven’t even made progress, if what’s being given to you, you should have had already.”  He is saying that because these rights should have been the given to the black man to begin with, fighting (with violence) is justifiable when one is being deprived of something they should already have.

Malcolm X said “The ballot or the bullet”, I think that is a sign that he was willing not to turn to violence, if there had been another option.  He made the point that if the government would have given black people a real voice, they would not have had to turn to violence.

While MLK would not agree with the possibility of violence, under any circumstances, you cannot deny that the two men were fighting for the same things.  They both believed that their rights were being, not just violated, but they did not truly have these rights in the first place.  King advocated non-violence; however he was willing to go to great lengths to achieve these ends.  He ultimately gave his life for this cause.  I think that if the white man would have done what he had promised he would do, the civil rights movement would never have had to turn to violence, and I think that Malcolm would agree.

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Great thinkers such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Socrates took it upon themselves to enhance their given societies with their unique perspectives on social change and through active attempts to influence others. Their beliefs, methods and philosophies greatly influenced their given societies the advantages of which made Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into an iconic American social leader and Socrates one of the many founders of Westernized philosophy.

Educationally, Dr. King was both a graduate of Morehouse College and a theologian who used his knowledge to combat inequality throughout the Southern regions of the United States during the 1960s. His intent was to alter the social standards of all Negro citizens using his social methods to organized advocacy in the form of non-violent peaceful sit-ins, marches and legal battles. He believed that he could create equality amongst Negros and Whites from institutionalizing equality through U.S. law and through state recognition of the Negro community and its standards. Dr. King used methods, which followed the status quo in order to obtain power through acknowledgment and leadership that he further yielded to all Negros in the form of education and equality in order to progress his social movement toward improving the standards of all Negros.

His efforts remind me of Socrates who attempted to alter institutionalized philosophical thought throughout Athens with his very own philosophy; a feat that would eventually cost him his very life. Socrates’ aim was to influence the men of Athens to lend their ears to those who teach wisely rather than following those who seek knowledge through an unreliable standard. Socrates believed that philosophers were the only suitable men to govern society. He believed his methods were a more reliable source than the Athenian system in place. His methods involve posing a series of questions until the one who seeks knowledge gradually develops an answer (the Socratic Method also known as elenchus).

Unlike Dr. King’s efforts to maintain the status quo and advance his community through making Negros knowledgeable about advocating justice and social advancements; Socrates was steadfast with his intent to disgrace Athenian philosophy and rebuild their society with his beliefs. This ultimately resulted in his trail and death, but the mere attempt had a lasting affect on his students, influenced a discipline and created a philosophical legacy. In contrast, these two historical figures were not very similar and their efforts to alter society are historically renowned.

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On Tuesday Iranian students at Sharif University held an antigovernment protest. The cause for the protest was the controversy with the current president of Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There are beliefs that he unjustly swayed the election in his favor. The Minister of Science and Higher education, Kamran Daneshjoo, was supposed to pay a visit to the University on Tuesday morning, but due to the protests, the visit was cancelled (for more information please click this link: nytimes article)

The acts of the students and the steps they have taken closely resemble the steps Dr. Martin Luther King outlines in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. The first resemblance would be the simple fact that, as to this point, the protests held by the students have been non-violent. The four steps addressed by Dr. King are the, “…collection of facts to determine whether injustice exist; negotiation; selfpurification; and direct action” (page 2, 2).  In the article it is implied that the government has done some unjust, and what seems to me as Machiavellian, things. Soon after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the election hundreds of former government officials and activist were thrown in jail. Although not for the most thorough of reasons, the Students have collected enough facts and witnessed enough unfairness to say that injustice exists. The students achieved self-purification by openly accepting their punishments of jail time and being banned from attending class. They took the direct action of nonviolent, persistent protests; something Dr. Martin Luther King was an activist for, as long as injustice was proven.

I would also like to take the time to point out the Machiavellian actions the Iranian government has taken. The article states, “Dozens of student activists were jailed or barred from attending classes this month, according to student Web sites, in an effort to intimidate students” (1). In chapter eight of “The Prince” Machiavelli explains the need a ruler has for cruelty (3). In my discussion session we talked about why Machiavelli believes a ruler must use cruelty from time to time. A majority of the class agreed it was a way of establishing and maintaining power. If you kill someone who committed a crime such as theft, then that is an example to all others what will happen to them if they commit the same crime. Cruelty is a way to ensure that as a ruler you have the upper hand and keep your legitimacy as the authority. The Iranian government seems to be following this same idea; if they put some of the student protesters in jail it will send a message to the others what they will face if they continue their actions. The second Machiavellian action taken by the government is that once the new President came to power he made sure to get rid of those who were in power previously, “More than a hundred activists and former government officials were arrested after the election” (1). In chapter seven of “The Prince” Machiavelli lists the things a ruler should do when they come to power, among other things he lists “…destroy one’s enemies…” (page 21, 3). According to Machiavelli, by imprisoning the former officials President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad secured his power as the new leader and showed his people the control he has.

Works Cited

  1. Fathi, Nazila. “The New York Times Log In.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 29 Sept. 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.         <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/30/world/middleeast/30iran.html?hpw&gt;.
  2. King, Martin L. “Letter from a Birimingham Jail.” Letter to Fellow Clergymen. 16 Apr. 1963. Historicaltextarchive.com. Historical Text Archive, 2001. Web. 27 Sept. 2009. <http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?op=viewarticle&artid=40&gt;.
  3. Machiavelli. “The Prince.” Ed. David Wootton. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub Co Inc, 2008. 9+. Print.

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