“Just give the niggars what they want.”
This is a line delivered in the powerful and important new film, Selma, the story of how Martin Luther King, Jr. led the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 to pass Congress.
Selma, worthy of Oscar talk, reminds us that African Americans still don’t have what they want, or what all people should want.
The movie evokes anger, shame, and sadness over what happened in the really not-so-distant past. It’s a movie everyone needs to watch. I thought I’d seen enough such films and knew the whole story. A a liberal I don’t need a movie to tell me the world is unjust. But we all need a reminder, and for me, it was a special experience because I took my son (and wife), who just turned 10, to see his first socially serious movie. I realized he doesn’t know much about the 60’s, other than general introductions in school.
It’s important to give today’s society context. When we see a disproportionate amount of crime is committed by blacks or that their education rate is low and unemployment high, or that they distrust the police, this movie helps you understand things.
This doesn’t mean there’s an excuse for violent crime, but as one sees that blacks and whites inherit different legacies and resources or burdens, you begin to understand what still divides us on racial matters.
Slavery may have been legislated away 150 years ago but progress from that point on has been slow and uneven. Centuries of inequality can’t even out overnight. Especially where there’s still an undercurrent of prejudice or suspicion amongst some people.
Now, on the positive side, things are better than ever for racial relations in America, but we still need to spotlight injustices. Voter ID nonsense at the polling place is something straight out of Selma but persists today. Police shootings of unarmed black people persist today. Stop and Frisk is racist. But we don’t have race riots and we don’t have KKK killings and more black people are soaring to the top of professions and even gaining access to the White House.
The movie reminded me that we don’t have great activists and leaders speaking out, not a brand name like King. But there are movements that effectively speak out on issues like gay rights, climate change, and police brutality. Part of the problem is the media. As noted in the movie, King knew that only when the media shined on him and the events at hand would something get done.
Where’s the media today?
It’s off speculating for three and a half years on who will run for the presidency, trivializing everything. It will zero in on Deflategate but not on what needs to be done to change the world for the better.
The 1960s was such an activist era –
· Civil rights movement
· Women’s rights movement
· Sexual liberation movement
· Drug culture movement
· Anti-war movement
You had Woodstock, the moon landing, the Beatles and assassinations of anyone who spoke up – Kennedy, King, Malcolm X. Maybe so much thought and violence clashed in that era that no other institution, leader, or movement has been able to get off the ground since then.
Today, the media is far from being the ally to an activist leader like King. Our 24-hour news channels are absorbed by pursuing ratings and will be quicker to tear a leader down than to build one up. If that leader doesn’t sing, dunk a ball, or blog, the media won’t take notice.
As writers, it’s up to us to help influence policy, educate the public, and inspire real action to be taken to bring about changes in our world that will be of immense benefit. We can’t be selfish, think short-term, or ignore the reality we live in.
After the movie I asked my son what he thought of what he had witnessed. He said he was glad we took him and that he didn’t fully realize that all that he saw had happened.
We went to a bookstore at the mall where we saw the movie and I asked him if he wanted a children’s book about MLK JR. He seemed more interested in looking at a book on 3-D printers. Maybe our new generation of leaders express their energy, ideas, and activism through the prism of technology. Or maybe, thankfully, his world is safe and secure and he sees racial equality around him. For him, today, he doesn’t feel we live in the world depicted on screen. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we have grown and distanced ourselves from those tenuous days, but they should not be forgotten or out of our consciousness.
As for King, what an amazing man. Though a womanizer and an imperfect reverend, he was a tremendous orator who was driven by a vision for justice. He may have wavered and grown exhausted from the challenges all around him (in fighting within the black community, legal issues, violent threats, lost faith), but he persevered and at times was moved by those he had moved. A Nobel Prize winner and a courageous man, he was shot dead in 1968 and America has not known a true leader since then. Jesse Jackson tried and peaked during his failed presidential bid in the 1980s, but then Al Sharpton moved in and has been an abject disappointment as a uniter of the races.
Who will step up and speak out on all that could be better, all that needs to be done? Will it be you or your child? And when that leader appears will we embrace him or her?
Let’s dream together – and turn that dream into a reality.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015
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