Monday, November 13, 2006

MLK's Dream Becomes a Reality?

Check out the headline on Yahoo's front page:

So, MLK's dream is finally a reality? People are judged on the content of their character instead of the color of their skin? We've licked racism? Hallelujah!

No, sorry, all it means is yet another monument. I think I missed hearing the speech where he had a dream that he'd be cast in bronze on the Mall. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I do think the headline writer jumped the gun.


At Monday, November 13, 2006 at 3:42:00 PM PST, Blogger Arb said...

If his dream had really become a reality, wouldn't it be non-news that a black African-American was getting a monument on the Mall?

At Monday, November 13, 2006 at 5:56:00 PM PST, Blogger Adam Villani said...

I suppose it might be tidbit-worthy, like the fact that pitcher Curt Schilling has hit the most home runs of any ballplayer born in Alaska.

Also, if his dream had truly taken hold, streets named after him would just pop up anywhere in town where a street named after any other great American would, like, say, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison, rather than only in black neighborhoods. Of course, there wouldn't be "black neighborhoods" if his dream had been realized.

At Monday, November 13, 2006 at 10:00:00 PM PST, Blogger Arb said...

That's true -- though I think it illustrates the unintended consequences of having "race identity," even if everyone were truly non-racist, in the pejorative sense of "racist."

First, cities want to name a major street after MLK; naming a minor one would be an insult. Most major streets run through the center of a city; most centers of cities are inhabited disproportionately by African-Americans. On the other hand, when people of European descent start moving into central cities, it's denounced as "gentrification."

Second, I hypothesize (and this is a hypothesis only) that African-Americans would feel more pride in having MLK Blvd/Street/Way run through their neighborhood, relative to other Americans. For this to be true, it does not imply that the population at large isn't proud of MLK; simply that he has a special place in the hearts of a subset of that population. (It's much the same as how, if I'm ever lucky enough to move back to Columbus, I'd love to live on Kossuth Street.)

Finally, as for the concept of "black neighborhoods," I am reminded of the work of Thomas Schelling in _Micromotives and Macrobehavior_, who showed that even if everyone in society wants to live in a balanced-race neighborhood, segregation is still a possible (and maybe not unlikely) outcome. The sheer fact of having a preference over the racial diversity of your neighborhood -- even if that preference is for a balanced neighborhood -- can create segregation.

Which, I think, all comes back to my original point -- if you have to mention that MLK was black, then, by definition, his dream hasn't been achieved. Which I guess is a little like mentioning that Curt Schilling is Alaskan; I'm guessing 99% of the baseball fans who heard that fact would ask, "and why the hell do we care?" If someday 99% of people, when it was pointed out to them that MLK was black, would have to ask "why the hell do we care?", *then* his dream'll be a reality.

At Tuesday, November 14, 2006 at 2:30:00 PM PST, Anonymous Victor said...

Except that -- isn't skin color rather more obvious than where somebody was born or his baseball stats.

Meaningless anecdote in this vein: I once was watching boxing on ESPN. Part of the standard description is for the play-by-play guy to say somewhere in every round "Morton is in the black trunks, Villani in the white." For this particular fight though, they were both wearing blue (or whatever ... I don't recall the specific details). Then the standard rule is to say "Morton is in the blue with white stripe, Villani in the blue-and-pink." Except that that didn't help in this case either. The shoes didn't help. And so they idenitified the fighters this way: "Morton has the white socks over his boots; Villani has no socks."

Punch line: one guy was white and the other guy was black. (And fairly obviously so -- no Harold Ford or Mediterranean swarthiness present.) I watched the whole fight just to see whether the commentators would ever distinguish the fighters on the single most obvious difference between two persons both stripped to the waist. ESPN must have some absolute rule against identifying athletes by race in game situations. In most respects, it's a good rule obviously. But this fight just made it seem asinine.

At Tuesday, November 14, 2006 at 3:44:00 PM PST, Blogger Adam Villani said...

Well, yeah, it is more visibly obvious (Statistics Canada even uses the term "visible minority" to describe non-whiteys). But the question is not whether or not race exists, but whether a person's general worth can be judged on it. Obviously we've made tremendous progress as a society in the last 50 years, but there are still a lot of lingering problems that have proven to require more than just de-institutionalizing racism.

For the record, my vision of the future is not one in which all ethnic identity has been wiped away, it's one where ethnic identities are interesting but not much of a determining factor in your life's station.


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