Judging the Character of one’s Content on MLK Day

Building/Consensus | Culture
On Martin Luther King Day, I celebrate by listening to WGBH’s Eric Jackson‘s salute to the great man, which he does by interespersing King’s speeches with jazz music. There are very few evenings on the radio as

Right now he’s delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He famous articulation, of course.was that we judge each each other on the content of our character, and not on superficial impressions. Now, for readers five hundred years in the future, I’ll have to point out what is obvious now, only 41 years since Dr. King’s speech delivered on the Lincoln Memorial, the superficial impressions were the color of ones skin, and that is still a worry of ours today. In cyberspace– that is, the place where we encounter strangers, often in textual modes of communications– there is no skin color. But there are superficial impressions that are made.

I was presented, on a Daily Kos diary, as an apologist for Zephyr Teachout. I was quite proud of defending her, I signed up on Daily Kos to try to defend the content of my character, or even the character of my content.

Consider this message I got from a Kos user:

People didn’t have much to go on to analyze you. I looked at the Civilities site before I got the first e-mail and couldn’t really tell much about you from that. And Paul Lukasiak found several instances where you seemed to be defending Zephyr Teachout, so that made people wary of you.

For the simple act of sticking up for someone, I was prejudged– and negatively.

There’s one lesson I carry from Martin Luther King, and for that matter, Duke Ellington. They knew that to be succesful, they not only had to appeal black America, but to white America, both the mainstream and the elite. That’s the story with any paradigm shift– you need a political genius or an artistic genius who is able to bridge the old and the new. King used the common language of the Bible and spirituality. It goes without saying that Ellington’s language of music was universal– it was for every other jazz performer. It was the Duke’s grace and attitude which helped him reach mainstream America. Ellington was on the road 350 nights a year, he traveled through the South, and was shut out of hotels; he had the slight indignation of seeing the talented, yet next-generation, Dave Brubeck make the cover of Time magazine in 1954. Duke was the one who delivered the issue to Brubeck’s hotel room. With all they put up with, you never heard King or Ellington yell about “the white man.” At a time when jazz and blues were categorized as “race music,” Ellington simply stated that his music was “beyond category.”

I contrast this with the folk-blogging community. They demand to be let into a closed conference, the conference is opened up, and they’re still not happy. And where do they get these cues? The same “two-step” (as Henry Farrell called it comes straight from the leaders of folk-blogging movement, like Dave Winer). When was the lesson forgotten that acceptance is a two-street?

Most national holidays represent victories over the Other– whether it is July 4th, Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day. King represents a victory over ourselves: our own prejudices, our own populist rage.

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  • Response summary: 1 comments, 0 Viewpoints
    eric jaskson moshe weitzman@… Jan 18 ’05 9:54PM
    . Just listen to 89.7 WGBH Jon Garfunkel Jan 23 ’05 2:55PM