May 30, 2023
Did you know that we have a new way to tell the world what “chutzpah” is?
It is when you are happy to ban a poem by Amanda Gorman at the same time that you use the words of Dr. Martin Luther King as justifications for what you are doing!
Two days ago the Miami Herald reported that “A K-8 school in Miami-Dade County last month issued restrictions for elementary-aged students on three books and one poem after a parent objected to five titles, claiming they included topics that were inappropriate for students and should be removed from the total environment.”
The poem entitled “The Hill We Climb” achieved national attention when Gorman was invited to read it as part of President Biden’s Inaugural festivities in January 2021. In looking at these “offensive words”, these four lines jumped out at me:
“We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.”
At least in one Florida school, these inspiring words are now inappropriate for a child to hear and learn from.
This banning happened because Florida law, as in a growing number of states, has been shaped to erase American history and to marginalize non-white, non-Christian, non-heterosexual people, and anyone else who threatens their supremacy and privilege; or who just makes them uncomfortable.
And the political movement that has brought us these laws have taken to defending themselves against accusations that these policies are biased and that those who support them are bigots by invoking the words of Dr King spoke in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Monument as hundreds of thousands filled the National Mall demanding an end to segregation and the beginning of a new age of equality.
They wrap themselves in these words, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” as their proof text; they claim that this is proof their critics are wrong and that, were he alive, Dr. King would joining them in their campaign to limit how we teach American History, how we repair of the harms done in our past, and their assertion that we are no longer a biased country.
The Heritage Society, the intellectual heart of MAGA-Conservatism, began to make this claim as much as 17 years ago when it published a piece by Carolyn Garris. She asserted that “it is time for conservatives to lay claim to the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr … his core beliefs, such as the power and necessity of faith-based association and self-government based on absolute truth and moral law, are profoundly conservative. Modern liberalism rejects these ideas… King aimed to unite a divided America behind the goals of the Founders, not to shift fundamentally unjust public policies to favor different groups. Affirmative action stands outside King’s legacy because it requires the government to see Americans as members of privileged and disfavored racial groups, not equal individuals. This is also the Conservative view.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has made “anti-wokeness” his calling card, followed that line in advocating for the “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act “ (known more familiarly as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”) just months after his administration used the executive power of his office to ban the teaching of the full history of our nation in his states public schools.
In defending his actions whose impact caused the banning, DeSantis, as reported by the Washington Post, invoked Dr. King as his ally. “You think about what MLK stood for, he said, “He didn’t want people judged on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character…” But then DeSantis went on to promote his brand, his brand of bigotry as if this is what Dr. King meant. “We have the responsibility to stand for the truth, for what is right, we also have to protect our people and our kids from some very pernicious ideologies that are trying to be forced upon them all across the country.”
This is chutzpah indeed.
Dr. King In his speech, before he talked about his dreams for the future, told the nation a truth that may no longer be teachable in many schools across our country, a truth that tells us exactly how despicable this use of Dr. King’s memory is.
He reminded us that 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation “the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land….”
And he told us that “we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating for whites only. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Martin Luther King clearly stated his position, saying, “whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a … mass effort to re-educate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” Given this, would King really be standing behind efforts to erase the reality of the Black experience since 1619?
The chutzpah of those who take one sentence out of context to justify the very things which Dr. King gave his life to fight against is staggering. Do they really think that Dr. King would think that we had reached that moment that he was praying for our nation to reach? Do they really believe that Dr. King would be standing with them as they support white supremacy?
I don’t and I don’t think they do either. They have the chutzpah to do so because their followers don’t know or don’t care that they are lying. And until we make them pay a political price for it, they will continue to do so.