Well, this year we get a rare Martin Luther King Jr. Day that falls close enough to the actual date (Jan. 15, 1929). I’ll keep this brief. It was a short hop of logic that stemmed from reading Paul Krugman’s New York Times column this morning.
Krugman, as one Nobel Prize-winner (economics) about another (peace), wrote of how, were King still alive, he would see a country burdened by economic inequality, a certain degree of which is rooted in racism. (Not all, of course — this economic fiasco has cut across a great ethnic and social cross-section of the 99 percent — but many of us were merely joining the minorities for whom economic opportunities haven’t been as plentiful for some time.)
And, of course, King gave his life for economic equality — traveling to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers — so this would have been near and dear to him.
But what about civil rights? And I’m not just talking about ethnicity and skin color.
Given the climate of some places in America changing for the better, yet some digging in their heels, I wonder where he would have stood on the current battlegrounds: gays and transgenders — people still legally treated as second- and third-class citizens in some parts of the Land of the Free. (I say “battlegrounds,” plural, because while we’re bonded by the same wretched variety of ignorance and violence, sexual identity and gender identity are, indeed, two different things.)
As a Baptist preacher, would King have been open-minded and understanding of our causes? Of course, gay and trans rights weren’t on the general radar when he died; Stonewall was still a year and change away. But would King, who would have been 83 yesterday, have been able to see and understand that, like skin color, sexual and gender identities are formed early on in the womb? Or would he have been so hidebound by religious dogma, and set in his ways by age, that he wouldn’t have been able to accept and embrace these fights?
After all, for example, as a group, transgender citizens suffer the highest rate of hate-crime violence of any group in the country — and trans African-Americans are killed more than any other group.
Black-on-black violence, white-on-black, whatever — people are still being killed for the way they’re born, and there’s still a significant number of people in America — especially in legislatures, such as Tennessee’s — who think gays are just a bunch of perverts, and transpeople are perverts running around in dresses, and that they should be punished.
Of course, the question is hypothetical. And, of course, I’d like to think that King would’ve been accepting and been advocating our causes. It’s probably a question that would have caused some sort of commotion had I brought it up as a talk-radio host. But it is one worth pondering.