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February is Black History Month: The Monumental MLK

By now, just about everything that will be said has been said about the new monument to Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King in Boston.

I couldn’t put my finger on what I objected to, but with the recent Floridian push to remove AP Black Studies from the curriculum, it became clear.


The statue in Boston viscerally evokes the history that Florida is trying to erase. How? From their first encounters with their enslavers, brought to this country in 1619, people with black skin have been viewed as nothing more than commodities and beasts of burden; those whose bodies were chattel for their owners. Although slavery is as old as humanity, America was an innovator in the institution, introducing the concept that the enslaved person (not just their labor) was literally property, and it was no crime for the slaveholder to do whatever they wished to the bodies of the enslaved.


Fast forward to Boston, and a commemoration that is supposed to be a symbol of love, as expressed as an embrace, has to my eyes reduced the great Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King to disembodied hands and arms. Body parts. A tangle of hands and arms that are supposed to represent a man and a woman. I am sad to say that we are not yet at the party where Black bodies represent all bodies, and this stylized amputation instead reminds us that sometimes, Black people are only seen as what their bodies offer.


The erasure of this history only serves to strengthen this attitude of dehumanization. We have to constantly agitate for the full representation of what has happened to everyone who makes up our country. We can’t let historical deniers claim all of American history, bask in an illusion of unearned virtue and enlightened progress, while closing their eyes and demanding that we close our eyes to what really happened.


Ironically, these deniers rightly point out that any member of a marginalized group today has a tenuous connection to the past wrongs done to members of their groups. Well, members of advantaged groups today likewise have absolutely no claim on any of the great deeds of their forefathers. They are trying to claim those deeds while denying any horrors that those great men inflicted on everyone else.


We should understand our past, celebrate the wondrous parts of it, vow not to repeat the terrible parts of it, and use what we know to create a better future.



 

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