Monday, January 17, 2005

No, Really, We Like Black People, Honest
So, are you enjoying your Martin Luther King holiday off work today? You don't have the day off today? You're not alone. Seventy percent of businesses don't close on MLK Day; what's even more surprising is that 40 percent of state and local government offices don't, either, despite the fact that all 50 states recognize the holiday.

To vast numbers of white Americans, this isn't a real holiday--it's just another Monday. Earl Ofari Hutchinson takes note of the history of MLK Day, and how Ronald Reagan was extremely reluctant to sign the bill authorizing it because he feared that King might have been a Communist. Reagan's reluctance gave millions of white Americans the right to think of MLK Day as the black person's holiday--but even when white Americans celebrate King's legacy, they often sanitize it into yet another feel-good American story. Writing at Working for Change, Geov Parrish says that the holiday's iconography, such as "I Have a Dream" at the Lincoln Memorial and the police dogs and firehoses in Birmingham, helps people ignore King's more radical positions against imperialism in Southeast Asia and exploitation of working people at home, and helps paper over the racial prejudice that's still endemic in the United States. "[F]or white America, King's soft-focus image often reinforces white supremacism. (See? We're not so bad. We honor him now. Why don't those black people just get over it, anyway? We did.)"

When it began, the Republican Party was the greatest friend black Americans had ever had. The GOP was the party of Lincoln, after all, and the shadow of the Great Emancipator loomed over it for almost a hundred years after the Civil War--even though the party did not cover itself in glory on racial issues. But with the historic political realignment of the 1960s, when the South flipped from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican for reasons having much to do with racial politics, Lincoln's shadow faded. Since the days of Nixon, there's been precious little reason for an African American to vote Republican, but that hasn't stopped the Policy Committee of the House of Representatives from publishing the 2005 Republican Freedom Calendar, touting all the ways in which the GOP has advanced the cause of freedom for black Americans during the 20th century. Over at the Gadflyer, Paul von Hippel stopped laughing hysterically long enough to debunk the calendar's many flawed assertions.

Did I mention that the calendar is the latest example of partisan propaganda being funded by tax dollars? It's paid for by a House committee, so that's our money they're using. First Armstrong Williams, next the Social Security Administration (although the Bush gang has elegantly denied that it will use the agency itself to spread lies about the program's solvency), and now this. The party is the state and the state is the party. In other words: We're all Republicans now.

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