MLK: Legacy for Sale?

MLK: Legacy for Sale?

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Dr. Martin L. King Jr. audio

Most people would acknowledge that we are a society obsessed with consumption. There is never enough to satiate our appetites. In fact, it’s the way of capitalism – there’s always something bigger, better, newer or shinier that we have to buy in order to compete with our neighbors, soothe our souls or prove to everyone that we are someone.

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This desire has shifted the American Dream of freedom to the American dream of having a life of luxury and being able to consume whatever you want, even if you don’t really need it. This need for excess has bled into every facet of our lives, including our diets, in which everything needs to be supersized. Every holiday is an opportunity to spend – apparently, even King Day.

Recently on television, there have been ads focused on King day sales. Sales for goods that people don’t need should hardly be part of the day celebrating the life of Dr. King. And yet, capitalism has infected the legacy of the man who reminded us of the true meaning of the American Dream—and it didn’t have anything to do with getting a discount on a new car.

Some might try to tie Dr. King’s focus on economic justice and the fight for decent wages as somehow relating to the materialistic ways of today, but to be clear: working to afford the things in life that you need and being focused on buying things you don’t need in order to keep up with some increasingly high and unreachable standard are not the same.

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Nearly fifty years after the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the current head of the House Judiciary Committee says he doesn’t think discrimination exists around voting and the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Our people are being taken—boys and girls, women and men—through violence, misconduct and other acts of aggression.

We have an image problem in entertainment with very few opportunities for people of color to be seen in a light that is reflective of our full, true selves on big and small screens alike, but also behind the scenes – a problem only highlighted by the disregard of people of color in the major categories at the upcoming Oscars.

According to a Pew Research Center report from just last month, the wealth gap has grown since the Great Recession. Although we have seen a rebuilding of wealth, it hasn’t happened equally and the median wealth for blacks in 2013 was a mere $11,000 in comparison to the media wealth of whites which is nearly $142,000.

When it comes to other issues, like jobs, education, health disparities and housing, there are still many steps to reaching what Dr. King gave his life trying to achieve. The reality is, we don’t need the legacy of Dr. King to be sold as just another holiday for more consumerism, excess and materialism. Dr. King earned his holiday because his work was to build a nation where people lived under equal applications of the law.

Until that happens, we should lift up this holiday to apply the principles that he lived and find ways to improve our community.

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