Kathy Shaidle

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Glenn Beck and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted on August 30 2010 3:00 pm
Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury, now entering its 11th year online. Her latest book is Acoustic Ladylandkathy shaidle, which Mark Steyn calls "a must-read."
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Design by Jam Donaldson

Contrarian African American cultural critic Jam Donaldson tends a blog with the marvelously scolding moniker, “‘Conversate’ is Not a Word.”

I’m eager to add, “And ‘disrespect’ is not a verb.”

Sometime around ten years ago, “He disrespected me” became the new “He looked at me funny.”

We’ve all read those depressing news stories about another senseless killing of one inner city kid by another. Too often, the killer expresses his motive with a shrug: “He disrespected me.”

I’d invite a sociologist or linguist to correct me, but that particular grammatical miscarriage seems to have originated among African-Americans and wormed its way into the broader culture.

Now, it’s nothing new that certain cultures — the Sicilian Mafia, pre-war Japan, Arabic Islam — have elevated a twisted notion of “honor” to ridiculous (and often fatal) heights. The “disrespected” meme (wherever it came from) is simply the latest iteration.

Anyway, Earl Ofari Hutchinson is too scholarly to use the word “disrespected” in his Huffington Post essay entitled “Beck Speaks for the White Majority.” But at the end, he echoes complaints about Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor gathering I’ve heard for the last two weeks or so, from others who, like Hutchinson, identify themselves as either Democrats or members of of the African-American community or both.

I listen to a great deal of conservative talk radio. And one popular talking point with callers lately has been that Glenn Beck was “disrespecting Martin Luther King” for holding his rally on the 47th anniversary of Dr. King’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech at the same location.

Now, I’d be willing to bet cash money that few of those outraged callers remembered that King’s speech was delivered on August 28 all on their own, but had only learned and memorized the date this year, thanks to Beck. I also somehow doubt any of them had spent the previous forty-seven August 28ths deep in solemn prayer and remembrance.

According to a recent poll, one quarter of Americans don’t even know the significance of the 4th of July. For a growing number of citizens, the date “November 22” no longer carries with it the echo of somber drums. Yet we’re supposed to believe that “August 28” has long been seared in the nation’s collective memory.

Nevertheless, Hutchinson ends his essay like this:

Beck knows that history and the political mood of the majority of white voters well. He’s stoked it for months on his TV show and he stoked it again at the Lincoln Mall and mocked Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement along the way.

I take Glenn Beck at his word that the August 28 date was chosen for many reasons, none of which were related to this or that historic anniversary. Hearing him wearily explain on his radio show (again and again) how the date came to be, anyone who has planned a wedding, family reunion or even a conference call would be nodding in agreement.

Beck calls the final date a “coincidence” and “divine Providence,” which, being a member of a 12 Step program, he regards as more or less the same thing.

Regardless, the very idea that Beck and the hundreds of thousands of (mostly white) Americans who gathered on the Mall last Saturday were “mocking” Martin Luther King simply can’t withstand scrutiny. This is not a matter of opinion, but of fact: Dr. King’s niece addressed the rally; Beck praised the late civil rights leader throughout the three-hour program (frankly, a bit too enthusiastically for my personal taste) and this praise was enthusiastically applauded by those in attendance.

Just after making a fool of himself in the pages of the New York Times, by writing:

Entering this weekend, I was convinced that Glenn Beck’s star was about to go into eclipse. (…)

But after spending my Saturday at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the Washington Mall, I’m beginning to think that I underestimated the man.

Ross Douthat redeems himself slightly today by making the obvious, inconvenient observation:

Similarly, one could call the rally a gross affront to the memory of King, who presumably wouldn’t have cared much for Beck’s right-wing politics. But one could also call the day a strange, unlooked-for fulfillment of King’s prophecies: 47 years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, here were tens of thousands of white conservatives roaring their approval of its author.

I don’t know about you, but all this genuflecting to the god of identiy politics has me needing a knee replacement.

As essayist “Dr. Zero” put it so well following Beck’s hugely successful event:

We dishonor ourselves when we deny the possibility of progress to embrace tribal hatreds. Race and feminist hustlers peddle a message that says the vast majority of people cannot be trusted to show common decency to minorities and women.  We’ve had enough of this toxic superstition.  Precious lives have been wasted, and ended, because there is power and profit to be gained in pretending the Civil Rights Act happened yesterday, and slavery ended the day before that.

It is considered insensitive to snap, “Oh, get over it!” Yet with each passing day, I find it harder and harder to refrain from saying just that.

Am I alone?

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