Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the aftermath of the Civil Right's movement, and the new Jim Crow.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may be one of the most influential figures in American history, not just for his involvement in what is now known as the Civil Right's movement, but also the aftermath of that movement.  Born decades after the end of America's civil war into a nation still bitterly divided by racial tensions, Dr. King recognized the injustices around him and had the courage and honorable conviction within himself to say, "this is wrong and things need to change."  What's even more amazing is the fact that Dr. King devoted his cause to peaceful methods of civil disobedience, constantly affirming the idea that "darkness cannot shine out darkness, only light can do that."  Unfortunately, advocates for social change usually make many enemies and on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated.  The act of violence stirred up anger in a lot of Americans, especially Americans of more colorful ethnicity.  Dr. King's death may have stirred people who shared his vision to act in his name, but it also drove many people to violence for the sake of retribution.  While I can sympathize with the anger that so many Americans felt on that tragic April morning in Memphis, Tennessee, I think committing violent acts to further the cause of a man who devoted his life to peace by non-violent means is ultimately insulting that cause.

It is now the year 2015, four decades after Dr. King's death, and America is still bitterly divided by racial tensions.  And, yet, it's not discussed as much anymore.  In the aftermath of the Civil Right's movement, silence fell upon Americans, as if to say, "we're done with this."  However; it has been a false peace - for, in place of the fervor of the Civil Right's movement, a new political agenda arose as a backlash to that movement.  The violence that occurred in response to Dr. Kings death provided an opportunity for the presidential election of 1968 to initiate a strategy would become commonplace in every election following; the strategy of "tough on crime" politics.

One of the architects of this new political agenda was a political adviser to the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and George H W Bush: Roger Ailes.  Ailes crafted a brilliant strategy to create an image of crime in America, appealing to President Nixon's "silent majority."  In America, change doesn't have to come with a full consensus; it just needs a 50 + 1 consensus.  That leaves plenty of room for opposition and, in the case of 1968, that opposition was people who resented or at least were naively critical of the idea of civil rights.  That opposition, President Nixon's "silent majority," is what Ailes took advantage of, creating a political machine that would bend media coverage to the advantage of the "silent majority" - President Nixon's "war on drugs" would provide the fuel for that machine and it would disproportionately affect communities of color in America; even today, four decades after Dr. King's death.  The idea behind Ailes' agenda was simple: make crime a top priority for American politics while using media to target low-income communities that are also communities of color.  As the "war on drugs" and "tough on crime" politics came to dominate the political atmosphere in America, becoming a main focal point in the campaigns of Democrats and Republicans alike, an atmosphere of criminality would form around poverty-stricken areas.  Ailes would go on to co-found the Fox News network and today the strategy of "tough on crime" politics has largely worked, aiming a media coverage campaign at poverty-stricken areas with the intent to display Americans of color as criminals.  It is only in recent years that Americans have started to fight back against this racist stigma calling it the "new Jim Crow."


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