THE OBSERVATION OF TWO MOMENTOUS DATES IN WESTERN HISTORY THIS WEEK ARE OVERSHADOWED BY PRESENT EVENTS THAT SHOW US
HOW FAR WE REALLY HAVE TO GO
This weeks celebrates the anniversary of two monumental dates in American history. On August 27th, the American constitution’s nineteenth
amendment, which guarantees women the right to vote in the entire U S of A, turns 93 yeas of age. And on the 28th, the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luthor King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the March for Jobs and Freedom at Washington D.C. in 1963. Both dates commemorate milestones in the struggle for liberty and equality by all. But other events this week have shown that, while we may have come far since these two days, we still have so much further to go.
While I didn’t watch MTV’s Video Music Awards this past Sunday (I’ve given the channel a very wide berth since it’s entire programming slate degenerated into teenage moms and the weekly cat fights of pseudo-celebrities), I did take a peek at a video of the Miley Cyrus performance that caused enormous backlash on the entire planet’s social media. I watched maybe a minute of it before my eyes vomited a little and I had to run away screaming (one online commenter suggested Robin Thicke get a pregnancy test after his Close Encounter of the Miley Kind). While plenty has already been said about Cyrus’ . . . unique performance, I find myself asking the same question about the price of female success in pop music that I’ve been asking ever since a seventeen-year old Britney Spears wore a mini-skirt and gyrated to seductive choreography while asking men everywhere to hit her one more time; why do women have to be sex objects to be successful? Cyrus isn’t the first to strut across the stage nearly nude and look like she was auditioning for a porn movie-and she won’t be the last-but I think we need to ask why every major female star in pop music for the past three decades has, at one time another, marketed her sexuality in order to conquer the top 40. Spears, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, the current queen of shock Lady Gaga, the Pussycat Dolls, the list stretches on and on. And while it may be argued that the ladies in question are simply cutting loose and having fun, and that Cyrus in particular is trying to divorce herself from her little girl image, would any of these women have enjoyed the same level of success had they not turned themselves into walking sex fantasies? One notable exception is Kelly Clarkson, yet she could well be the exception that proves the rule as American Idol’s very first winner has had to endure criticism about her weight and body every step of her impressive career. Would Janice Joplin, Karen Carpenter or Patsy Cline be successful in today’s sex saturated industry? Or would they be consigned to obscurity? And while pop music may be one of the biggest and most visual examples of this lopsided social dynamic, it’s hardy the only one. It seems that more than nine decades after the fairer sex won voter equality south of the border, woman still have miles to go for before they’re seen as genuine equals and not sexual possessions.
And while the entire free world should celebrate both Dr. King’s speech and the pivotal march where he delivered it, every week we’re confronted by evidence that racial equality in the United States is still light years away. One current story making the viral rounds is about a party of 25 black customers being ejected from a Wild Wing Café in North Charleston, South Carolina. Michael Brown and the rest of his party were bidding farewell to his cousin, who was leaving the North Charleston area, when they were asked to move by the restaurant’s shift manager. Apparently, they were making a white customer feel uncomfortable and when one of the offending party began recording the unusual request on their smart phone, the manager became offended and asked the entire group to leave because “she had a right to.” Brown called Wild Wing’s corporate headquarters repeatedly but didn’t receive a response until he posted the story on the restaurant’s Facebook page. He immediately received a call from Wild Wing’s head office offering him an apology and a free meal for himself and everyone in the party that night. Needless to say, he refused both the offer and the apology. Most telling of all though are attempts to keep blacks (and others) from participating in American democracy at the most basic level. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned a number of provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prevented voter discrimination and suppression based on race (legislation that was a direct result of Dr. King and the March for Jobs and Freedom on Washington D.C. half a century ago), a number of southern states rushed to begin shoving through legislation that would make voting more difficult for blacks, latinos and other minorities. Texas waited a mere two hours before introducing its legislation and North Carolina’s laws have resulted in widespread campaigns of civil disobedience across the state (Texas is currently being sued by the American Department of Justice over it’s new restrictive voting laws). The scarier part is, this fight started well before the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act and last November, hundreds (if not thousands) of black voters waited in line more than four hours after polls closed in Florida in to cast their vote for President. Most did so in defiance of that state’s attempt to disenfranchise them. These battles will only grow more intense as next November’s mid term elections for control of the Senate and House draw closer.
The sacrifice of those who inspired and engineered such pivotal moments should always be celebrated. The women who marched to win the right to vote were often spit on, beaten and worse. Many were rejected and scolded by their families and church leaders before being disowned or thrown out of their congregations altogether. Martin Luthor King was arrested dozens of times for frivolous and often fictional offences and he always knew an assassin’s bullet waited for him. But he, and others like him, persisted and fought the good fight, no matter how much needless blood was spilled and how much their dignity was assaulted. And the world benefitted from their graceful yet determined resolve. But as we mark the passage and importance of these unforgettable days, we should take equal measure of how far we sill have to go before the architects of such change are truly vindicated. We should also take stock how far we’ve fallen since.
- Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech in full as US marks 50th anniversary (metro.co.uk)
- AUGUST 26 = Women Get the Vote. (krusty1960historysstory.wordpress.com)
- Still Fighting For Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream (studentsforliberty.org)