Saturday, January 16, 2016

Can you explain the Martin Luther King Day to me?

On Monday, because it will be the third Monday of 2016, the U.S. will celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr day. He was born in 1929, was assassinated in 1968, fought for the black interests, and received the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize – which various characters win these days.

I think he must have been an OK man – well, like a nontrivial number of Baptist ministers. But I am simply not getting how "his day" could be picked and survive as a holiday on par with Christmas or the Independence Day. Such recent politically active characters are typically very polarizing. In Czechia, there is quite a consensus that Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, was a very special, refined, positive man. But we don't celebrate any Masaryk Day. Newer character – surely Havel – would be way more polarizing, of course.

King has been an activist who helped to end segregation in the U.S. He gave lots of colorful speeches and organized marches etc. I understand that. But because the achievement was the kind of stuff that some or most blacks wanted to achieve, while the rest of the U.S. population hadn't a very clear opinion about that, to put it mildly, I don't understand why he became an apparently undisputed role model of all Americans. It would be like for America to celebrate Bill Gates or Steve Jobs for some success they had against the competing company, isn't it?

A recurring event seems to revolve around seats in buses. Young black women Claudette Colvin and then especially Rosa Parks became famous for refusing to give up their seats in a bus to older, white men. Whenever I hear this – that someone became famous for refusing to give up a seat – I laugh although it sounds like a tragedy to me. Now, the laws said that the seats in the front side of the buses were reserved for whites; those in the rear part of the bus were for blacks and those had a higher chance not to have a seat.

Now, I surely agree that this was a case of "racial discrimination". But I don't agree that there's no sensible way to understand why such a setup was chosen.

First, the average white taxpayer used to pay – and still pays – significantly higher taxes from which the buses are being funded. Despite this more than half-a-century of improvements, the average U.S. black earns some 65% of the salary of the average white. Because the taxes are progressive, it's almost certain that his paid taxes are less than 50% of the taxes paid by the average white. Some "disadvantaged tickets on the bus" sound rather sensible.

Second, the degree of hygiene and safety is simply lower in one group than it is in the other. Many people in the other group demonstrably had and still have serious problems with the transportation redesigned in this totally mixed way. I think that I don't and I have spent quite some time among blacks in the subways in the U.S. and so on – but whenever I used the Boston or New York Subway, it looked like services that didn't even attempt to be services usable by all citizens in all occupations. Like food tickets, they were a welfare system of a sort.

Sixty years ago, some blacks refused to give up seats. But I think that later, most whites actually did give up the public transportation. This has created a much larger amount of segregation. A very large fraction of ordinary blacks use the public transportation; almost all the whites drive their cars. The percentage of whites in the U.S. public transportation system is much lower than their percentage in the overall population. No one seems to be worried about that observation.

Third, I think that it was absolutely disproportionate to arrest the young black ladies for giving up seats on the bus. But I can understand why certain people (e.g. youth) are encouraged to give up their seats; and I can't see why it's so wonderful to encourage or even worship the culture of young folks who don't give up the seats. I was educated in this way – and it seemed (and still seems) very natural to me to give up my seat in the streetcar to an old lady. Even these days, I almost always do so. When I was in the third grade, it actually became a favorite sport of mine. With a few classmates, this generous ritual was turned into a sport of a sort when we also added some pranks etc.

I simply cannot get rid of the feeling that a 15-year-old female teenager who assertively fights for her seat and even refuses a compromise that some whites and blacks in the bus worked out is at least slightly evil and egotist. The fact that she is pregnant doesn't make her moral credentials too better in my eyes. 15-year-old girls shouldn't really be pregnant yet.

To say the least, the disputes over the seats must be terribly controversial and polarizing if a nation thinks about those matters freely and rationally. It seems to me that the King holiday implicitly allows one correct answer to these things only. If you're teenager, be nasty to the adults, especially those from the "stronger" race, and don't ever give up your seat. Well, I indeed think that this is how not only blacks were largely educated afterwards but I wouldn't call it a good education. Yes, I think that to teach kids – black and white – to be respectful towards older people in some situations (or to those who have achieved something) could help the young ones, too. This respect isn't primarily about some humiliation of races; it's about being pleasant for the environment and it's about the respect towards the achievements regardless of their races. And not to understand that most of the important good things in America have been done by whites means not to understand these good things themselves.

The upgrade of a charming but political controversial Baptist minister to an uncriticizable holy cow may have been a major event that made the transformation of America to the contemporary society largely controlled by PC unavoidable. At the end, King looks like a similar figure to Reverend Wright, for example. King was close to communism, too. It's puzzling for me why the conservatives found it OK to worship King.

My text about the same topic written exactly 10 years ago ultimately focused on some Czech historical leaders.

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