The Life of Jesus vs. the Popular Legacy of Jesus

I write this post not to express any theological perspective, but simply a political and historical one about how the message of Jesus has been corrupted by conservative Christians in the United States. I am not writing to debate whether Jesus was the Son of God, a prophet, the messiah, a miracle worker, or anything of the sort, but I just want to point out what he was and stood for in comparison to what he has been made to stand for today.

Today is Good Friday, the day Christians mourn the crucifixion of their spiritual leader, Jesus Christ. On Sunday, Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Most Christians, at least in the United States, celebrate a very different Jesus than the one who lived a couple thousand years ago. If Jesus returned to Earth, as many Christians believe he will, the shock and disgust that he would have towards the majority of those who consider themselves his most devote followers.

Regardless of one’s personal religious beliefs, as long as you believe Jesus existed (I am somewhat surprised by how many people doubt his existence, which to me makes little sense — more evidence points towards his existence than his nonexistence, and what would the point of making him up be? But I digress…), it is difficult to deny the radical beliefs of Jesus. Living under the mighty Roman empire, one of the most powerful empires in world history, Jesus saw how the Romans exploited the poor for their own wealth and manipulated religion to subdue the people and maintain the status quo. Jesus had no intention of creating his own religion; he simply wanted to use religion as a political vehicle to rebel against the Roman Empire. Jesus knew that humans were not meant to be pitted against each other, but to cooperate and help each other; he knew that religion was a way to reach people and to motivate them, and a just religion had no place for the injustices in the Roman Empire. So Jesus rebelled: he told other oppressed people that the meek shall inherit the earth, and he condemned those who profited off the labor of others and those who persecuted others. Indeed, Jesus was a revolutionary and radical figure of his time, and he pursued a liberal agenda that promoted equality and justice in the face of classical imperialism and oppression.

The crime that Jesus committed– “The Cleansing of the Temple” — that led to his crucifixion was that he overthrew tables of money at a temple in Jerusalem to protest Roman and Jewish rulers who were charging the people during their worship of God. In current studies of Christianity, this fact seems practically forgotten. Religious leaders constantly tell Christians that “Jesus died for us” while simultaneously ignoring the supposed crime that he committed that led to his execution. If “Jesus died for us,” he sacrificed his life to protest the ruling class’s exploitation of those who less fortunate. The Cleansing of the Temple is a clear act of political subversion and rebelling against the oppressive status quo.

How have we gone from the point where the subversive political activist Jesus who preached equality and stood up for the poor has been transformed into a vengeful Jesus that rejects any social change and seeks to limit the rights of some? Those in the United States who claim to best represent Jesus ignore his most essential beliefs while emphasizing viewpoints that Jesus never mentioned. While many Christians believe the most important issues in the United States are abortion and homosexuality, Jesus never said or did anything that suggested these issues were important to him. In addition, many conservatives believe that free market capitalism is essential to Judeo Christian ethos (one example here), but to scourge the bible to find particular passages to stress a certain ideology ignores all of the passages that contradict that ideology and the passages that argue for something that is completely absurd in contemporary society. If Christians want to follow Jesus’s message, they would not follow a free market capitalist ideology that promotes greed and consumption, and they would leave it up to Jesus to decide whether homosexuals are sinners. It is not up to Christians to judge who Jesus would resent, especially considering everything that Jesus said leads one to believe that Jesus would dislike those who are judging and oppressing rather than those who are striving for equality and justice.

Whether one believes in Christianity or not, this Easter let us remember what Jesus truly taught. He died as a result of his fight against exploitation and injustice. Those who use his name to promote exploitation and injustice are the ones who would be judged so harshly by Jesus, just as he criticized the Roman rulers who oppressed the laboring class that he defended. Instead of relying on a corrupted and manipulated theology to enforce an oppressive ideology, pay attention to what the historical Jesus truly said and did and then ask if would approve of how American Christians are using his message.

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Justice for Trayvon Martin: Yes, Race Still Matters

For some Americans, especially conservatives, the election of Barack Obama was proof that race no longer mattered. Sure, these same conservatives often conspired that Obama was not legally the president because he was not a real American, and his birth certificate was fake. They questioned if he was actually born in Kenya, which was such an absurd topic, yet one that Obama was required to address on more than one occasion. Nonetheless, the race problem was solved as evidenced by the election of a black president, according to many conservative pundits.

For those of us who realized the absurdity of white Republicans celebrating the end of racism, the murder and lack of immediate charges against George Zimmerman prove that racism continues to exist. Racism changes, as society does, and so racism is not the same today as it was in the 1960s, and advances have been made, but that does not mean the race problem is solved.

If Trayvon Martin was white, would George Zimmerman have been arrested? Certainly he would have. The police would not have believed that an unarmed white child attacked an armed man who was much larger than him, causing Zimmerman to shoot him out of “self-defense.” Zimmerman’s family has defended him saying that he is Hispanic and not racist. The fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic does not disprove the accusations that he is racist; Hispanics can be racist. Zimmerman saw a black kid in his upper teens in a hooded sweatshirt in his neighborhood and immediately reported him as “suspicious” and “up to no good.”  What was so suspicious about the kid? Would a white kid have had the police called on him for acting suspicious? I am white, and I have never had the police called on me for acting suspicious.

Zimmerman is not the Ku Klux Klan type of racist that burns crosses in black people’s yards if they enter their neighborhood. But Zimmerman craves authority and power and believes that he needs to police the neighborhood for himself, and he also believes it is suspicious if young black males are in the neighborhood. Race still matters in that Zimmerman’s reaction to seeing a young black male in his neighborhood is different than his reaction would have been if it was a young white male. Race still matters in the police’s reaction to seeing a dead black male on the ground was different than if it was a dead white male. The police would not have immediately believed Zimmerman’s account if the races were different, and Zimmerman would not have been immediately suspicious of Martin if he was not black.

The other unsettling aspect of the murder of Trayvon Martin is the legal challenge that the “Stand Your Guard” law poses in Florida. The law was first passed in Florida in 2005, and has since been passed in 16 other states. This law is what Zimmerman will cling to as his defense, and it allows one to use force if they feel threatened in a public situation without needing to flee. Unless there are key eyewitnesses to the murder to contradict the murderer’s account, the murderer can easily say they acted in self-defense, and then how do you convict the person? In 2010, the Tampa Bay Tribune found how often this law has been used as a defense in murder charges, and justifiable homicides were definitely up. If an unarmed kid can be chased and then shot and killed, and yet the child is considered the provocateur by the police since they had nothing to contradict the murderer’s story, it shows how flawed the law is. It becomes extremely difficult to prosecute a murderer without key eyewitnesses because how can the jury be convinced that the killer was not acting out of self-defense if no one saw it? It opens a slippery slope of how one defines self-defense then. Hypothetically, one could harass someone at a park, follow them around, spit on them, push them, and refuse to leave them alone, then once the person has had enough of the harassment and fights back, the provocateur could shoot and kill the person and then simply claim self-defense to the police. People need to be required to attempt to flee what they perceive as a threatening scene instead of provoking them if they are going to claim self-defense. But the “Stand Your Ground” law does not require this and it sets up the potential for these violent incidents. Clearly Florida needs to revise their gun laws, as well as the other 16 states to have since passed them.

The tragic murder of Trayvon Martin is so unfortunate that one has to feel horrible for him and his poor family and friends. The only way that any good can come out of this killing is if it sparks a much needed renewed conversation about race in the United States and it also makes states reconsider these “Stand Your Ground” laws. Both of these issues need to be addressed, and hopefully this tragedy can make Americans reconsider these topics. In addition, Watch Groups need to have careful guidelines of what they follow. Watch Groups are not meant to be police officers without a badge or training. They should not be trying to enforce the laws themselves, but to watch for laws being broken, and then call the police to take action without getting involved themselves. Trayvon Martin will never get his life back, but we can at least learn something from his unfortunate murder by taking action and learning lessons from it.

Reconsidering Invisible Children and the Kony 2012 Campaign

(Update: Since originally writing this, I have also come across this: Ugandans are suspicious of the video as well. If you took the time to watch the 30 minute Kony 2012 video, you need to also watch this 6 minute response, which is a brilliant critique that makes many of the same points I attempted to make, but more eloquently and better informed.)

If you are on Facebook or Twitter, you probably have seen someone post the “Stop Kony 2012” video by now. At the time of writing this, the official video has almost 39 million views on YouTube, and #StopKony has been trending on Twitter for the past couple days. If you bothered to watch the video, you will see a well directed 30 minute video by a not-for-profit organization called Invisible Children demanding the arrest of a Ugandan warlord named Joseph Kony, who is accused of using children as soldiers and raping women. The directors requested everyone share the video on social media sites, in particular targeting celebrities and policy makers, and as a result the video has gone viral. While Joseph Kony deserves to be arrested, this organization and its method also deserves to be scrutinized.

Several other blogs have raised criticism of the Invisible Children organization, and I encourage you to read them (1, 2, 3, 4). Many point out the poor financial record of Invisible Children, which only provides 32% of its donations to the active cause. Certainly there are better not-for-profit organizations that one could donate to if they want to make a difference in central Africa. The video and its directors deserve further criticism though. I am not an expert on Uganda, Joseph Kony, or central Africa, but the fact that I felt just as comfortable talking about the situation before watching the video than I did after watching it raises serious concerns about its educational value. True, the video raised my awareness of Kony, and as an interested person, I will research it for myself, but the majority of viewers will not do the same, and therefore will learn little from the increased awareness of Kony.

What exactly does wearing “Kony 2012” bracelets and hanging up posters do to solve the conflict in central Africa? There is a difference between bringing awareness to the serious issues in Africa and making it a trendy movement that will fade away as soon as 2012 ends or Kony is captured. The film does not explore the roots of the problem or how large the problems are in Africa. Kony is not the only African warlord, and if he is captured the problem is not solved as another one will simply replace him. Yet the video presents it as a single issue that Kony needs to be stopped, and that is the solution to the problems in central Africa. It simplifies the problem to such an extent that the viewer learns little from it, and hence there is no educational value to it. Nothing is mentioned about the diversity of Uganda, which contains many different ethnic groups without any one being the majority. Nor is anything mentioned about Uganda’s colonial past, which continues to shape the country which only gained its independence fifty years ago. When a country consisting of such a diverse population gains its independence, wars between different ethnic groups are not uncommon. Invisible Children seems to ally itself with the Ugandan government against Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), but the Ugandan government is not free from human rights abuses itself. The Ugandan government has considered passing an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would punish those convicted of homosexual acts with the death penalty. Is this the government that an organization for peace should be allying itself with? Arresting Kony certainly will not improve the government’s human rights record. To understand the problems in Uganda or central Africa, one has to know at least a little about the background of the country or the region. In fact, the viewer learns more about the director and narrator’s five year old son, who is vital to the video, than anyone else, including Kony.

The fact that the narrator and his son play such a major role in the video romanticizes their role in an uncomfortable way reminiscent of the White Man’s Burden. I do not believe the narrator had bad intentions while making the video, and I believe he thinks his organization is truly helping, but the fact that he can create a video with his five year old son pointing to a picture of Kony as saying he’s “the bad guy” that needs to be stopped without recognizing the inherent cultural imperialism behind it demonstrates how clueless the organization is. The idea of the White Man’s Burden is that it is whites noble mission to uplift other “uncivilized” races. It makes me very uncomfortable to watch a video where a white narrator talks to and about his son and how he wants to raise him in a world where (black) children in other countries are not forced to serve in a military. His plan to make sure his son does not grow up in such a world is simply to make videos such as this one, have people share them, spread “Kony 2012” posters and bracelets, and press lawmakers to make sure Kony is arrested. White Americans need to realize that the best way to help solve a conflict in Africa is not to make it into movement using social media. If people want to become true activists and raise awareness of complex issues, they need to first fully understand them themselves (which I do not, nor do I claim to) and second they need to educate others so they understand the problems at hand.

Instead of a video about “Kony 2012” that ignores the complexities of the problem and focuses on his (white) five year old son, the narrator would be better suited to make a video about the war torn region and poverty in it that educates the viewer instead of telling the viewer it is our duty to rescue them.

Ballad of a Dead Soulja: Remembering 2Pac

And still I see no changes. Can’t a brother get a little peace?
There’s war on the streets & the war in the Middle East.
Instead of war on poverty,
they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.

– 2Pac – “Changes”

Fifteen years ago today (9/13/2011), Tupac Amaru Shakur — 2Pac aka Makaveli — died after being gunned down in Las Vegas. The talented rapper was criticized by politicians, in particular by Dan Quayle who led protests against his first album 2Pacalypse Now (1991) and suggested it “had no place in America.” 2Pac earned a reputation as one of the early “gangsta rappers” and his sound came to symbolize West Coast hip-hop at a time when a violent West Coast vs. East Coast feud emerged in hip-hop. As a result, many who have not listened to 2Pac — and even some who have — fail to understand the complexity and depth of his lyrics and intellect. Beyond just a gangsta rapper, 2Pac was a poet with a strong political and social conscience, which now days you will only hear from underground rappers (such as Dead Prez, A-Alikes, and Immortal Technique).

A few months ago, I gave a guest lecture at a local university on a class about “Race and Music”, and my lecture focused on politics in hip-hop, and one of my goals was to emphasize to the students that there is a difference between glorifying the gangsta life and narrating it as a social problem. While Tupac ended up having some songs that celebrated the gangsta life in his later music, which likely had more to do with his association with Suge Knight than his own lifestyle, his early music focused on social and political issues, and this progressive message continued to influence much of his later music as well. Anyway, to show this class an example of narrating the gangsta life instead of celebrating it, I played the song “Soulja’s Story” from his first album (again, from 1991), which is a song that drew the ire of Dan Quayle.

“Soulja’s Story” is a brilliant song that needs to be listened to while following along with the lyrics to appreciate it, which is what I made this class do. I will analyze the song here, so I will also provide the lyrics, but feel free to just read my analysis instead of the lyrics if you just want the synopsis. The song has two characters, both played by Tupac: Tupac (the person) as 2Pac (the rapper) and Tupac as Soulja (a fictional character with a deeper voice who Tupac uses in a few songs). It starts off with 2Pac softly repeating what is the chorus of the song in the background:

All you wanted to be, a soulja, a soulja
All you wanted to be, a soulja, like me
All you wanted to be, a soulja, a soulja
All you wanted to be, a soulja, like me

Then Soulja speaks over 2Pac with some sound political and social advice:

They cuttin off welfare..
They think crime is risin now
You got whites killin blacks,
cops killin blacks, and blacks killin blacks
Sh*t just gon’ get worse
They just gon’ become souljas
Straight souljas

Tupac, as Soulja, is emphasizing that cutting welfare will only lead to more social ills because the poor blacks, who depend on it due to their low income, will increasingly turn to crime without it. This introduction also reveals what Tupac means by “soulja”: a “gangsta” who turns to crime as a result of the social ills affecting the black community.

This concludes the intro to the song, but then Soulja (again, remember this is still Tupac with a deeper voice) begins the first verse. Here Tupac provides the story of Soulja’s life:

Crack done took a part of my family tree
My mom is on the sh*t, my daddy’s splittin, mom is steady blamin me
Is it my fault, just cause I’m a young black male?
Cops sweat me as if my destiny is makin crack sales
Only fifteen and got problems
Cops on my tail, so I bail til I dodge ’em
They finally pull me over and I laugh
“Remember Rodney King?” and I blast on his punk ass
Now I got a murder case..
.. you speak of heaven punk? I never heard of the place
Wanted to come up fast, got a Uz and a black mask
Duckin f*ckin ‘Task’, now who’s the jack-ass?
Keep my sh*t cocked, cause the cops got a glock too
What the f*ck would you do – drop them or let ’em drop you?
I chose droppin the cop
I got me a glock, and a glock for the n*ggaz on my block
Momma tried to stab me, I moved out
Sold a pound a weed, made G’s, bought a new house
I’m only seventeen, I’m the new kid
Got me a crew, bought ’em jewels, and a Uz’-thick
But all good things don’t last
‘Task’ came fast, and busted my black ass
Coolin in the pen, where the good’s kept
Now my little brother wants to follow in my footsteps
A soulja

Soulja has significant problems at home: his mom is a crack addict and his dad stranded the family, while his mom blames him for the problems. As a young teen (15), he is already being harassed by the cops for being black — as if his “destiny is makin crack sales” — even though he still seems innocent, but these problems at home led him to try gain independence and make a living for himself. As a result of domestic problems and the need for independence, by the time Soulja is 17 he turns to crime (“Momma tried to stab me, I moved out / Sold a pound of weed, made G’s, bought a new house / I’m only seventeen, I’m the new kid /Got me a crew, bought ’em jewels, and a Uz’-thick”). Now that Soulja has adopted the gangsta lifestyle with jewels, money, guns, and drugs, he’s even more of a target by the cops. When he finally gets pulled over, knowing that he is in possession of illegal goods while also the beating of Rodney King is fresh in his memory, Soulja fears for his life and shoots the cop. Of course, I am not defending anyone who kills a cop, nor was Tupac, but he’s discussing the socio-economic and political realities behind why it may happen instead of just accusing the murderer as a no-good thug with no motive. Too often, society focuses on the crimes — which are certainly unforgivable — without considering the causes of the crimes, which also need to be addressed to prevent further instances of them. Tupac clearly realized this and agreed with assessment based on his line early in the intro “they cuttin off welfare / they think crime rising now? / … sh*t just gon get worse.” Returning to the narrative, Soulja was arrested for murdering the cop shortly after, and he’s now in prison. Unfortunately, his little brother looks up to him (having no male head of the household, and his mom is a crack addict, who else would he look up to?), and wants to “follow in his footsteps.”

This ends the first verse, and the chorus that began the song repeats. Then the second verse comes from 2Pac’s perspective (in this song, 2Pac raps as Soulja’s younger brother):

Buck, buck – n*ggaz get f*cked, don’t step to this
Quiet as kept I’m blessed on a quest with a death wish
Tell ’em to come and test, and arrest, n*gga it’s hectic
Here’s the anorexic, I’m makin it to an exit
Walkin through the streets on the black tip
Packed with several gats, cause I’m on some “pay ’em back” sh*t
N*ggaz don’t wanna try me, brother you’ll get shot down
Now I’m king of the block, since my bigger brother’s locked down
I’m hot now, so many punk police have got shot down
Other coppers see me on the block, and they jock now
That’s what I call a kingpin
Send my brother what he needs and some weed up to Sing-Sing
Tellin him just be ready set
Pack ya sh*t up quick; and when I hit, be prepared to jet
N*ggaz from the block on the boat now
Every single one got a gun, that’ll smoke – pow!
These punks about to get hit by the best
I’m wearin double vest.. so aim at my f*ckin chest
I’ll be makin straight dome calls
Touch the button on the wall, you’ll be pickin up your own balls
I can still hear my mother shout..
“Hit the pig n*gga, break your bigger brother out”
I got a message for the warden
I’m comin for ya ass, as fast as Flash Gorden
We get surrounded in the mess hall, yes y’all
A crazy motherf*cker makin death calls
Just bring me my brother and we leavin
For every minute you stall, one of y’all bleedin..
They brought my brother in a jiffy
I took a cop, just in case things got tricky
And just as we was walkin out (BANG!)
I caught a bullet in the head, the screams never left my mouth
My brother caught a bullet too
I think he gon’ pull through, he deserve to
The fast life ain’t everything they told ya
Never get much older, following the tracks of a soulja

As Soulja’s little brother, 2Pac raps in a much angrier and more aggressive style, wanting to get revenge for his older brother. Soulja made clear in the previous verse that his younger brother wanted to follow in his footsteps, so 2Pac picks up as Soulja’s little brother looking to resume the gangsta life that his older brother got imprisoned for. While Soulja seemed more socially conscious of what he was doing, 2Pac’s verse expresses more of an act of revenge to try to make up for what happened to his older brother. So he, with the encouragement of his mother, attempts to break his brother out of prison. While he initially got his brother, as they were leaving the prison, they both got shot; 2Pac got shot in the head, and seemingly died, while his brother also got shot, but seems like he will make it. But for anyone who thinks Tupac is glorifying gangsta lifestyle here, the last two lines make it clear: “The fast life ain’t everything they told ya / Never get much older, following the tracks of a soulja.” Basically, the “fast life” (fast way to riches through crime — the gangsta lifestyle) is not what it is made out to be; it ends up leading to prison or death, hence it is not worth it. Yet, while Tupac warns against it, he acknowledges the causes of it, and it’s due to the social ills in society that primarily affect African Americans.

As I mentioned, I played this song for a class where I was giving a guest lecture on politics in hip-hop, and I had them follow along with the lyrics as I played it. I was surprised by how well they interpreted the lyrics when I played it. They understood the complexity of it and the social and political story that Tupac was telling through these two characters. Yet, this is the song that drew condemnation from Dan Quayle for saying this song had no place in American society. If you actually listen to the lyrics and understand the song, it is just commentary on current events in society, especially in the African American community.

15 years after 2Pac’s death, no mainstream rapper has come close to replicating his revolutionary message. In this post, I just broke down one song, which was from his first album, but there are many more 2Pac songs that can be analyzed in a similar way. 2Pac was a revolutionary poet and musician, who, despite accusations from the media and politicians that he was a mere “gangsta rapper,” had a lot to say and to learn from. For the future of hip-hop, I can only hope more artists embrace this radical message that seeks change in society instead of the majority of the hip-hop artists we are stuck with now who simply glorify the gangsta lifestyle instead of breaking it down and recognizing its causes and flaws. Unfortunately, the radio does not play the politicized artists, and we are stuck with artists who celebrate a damning lifestyle built on selling crack and “pimping hoes.”

America needs another Tupac, and hip-hop needs another 2Pac. We can only hope for the emergence of another “soulja” to reach the masses.

Art exhibit “A Child’s View of Gaza” is cancelled due to Pro-Israeli pressure

See some of the banned images.

Drawings from children provide an insight into that child’s perspective of life and their worldview. When I worked with children a few years ago, they loved to draw pictures for me, and I always enjoyed them because it provided a look into their lives. Likewise, I enjoy my nieces and nephews drawing because it shows me what they are interested in and what they think I will like.

Children in Gaza, suffering from an Israeli occupation that has them living in poor conditions in what is essentially a large prison, certainly would have an interesting worldview that I believe the rest of the world should see. An Oakland art gallery planned an exhibit called “A Child’s View of Gaza” that would show visitors children’s drawings of Gaza. Unfortunately, pro-Israeli groups pressured the museum to cancel the exhibit, and the museum complied. The Jewish Federation of the Bay Area boasted that this was “great news” due to “Jewish community organizing.” It then applauded those who made sure this “extreme anti-Israel propaganda was stopped.”  This isn’t some inflammatory rhetoric by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denouncing the existence of Israel (which is only to compensate for his Jewish roots); these are merely children’s drawings, which would prove valuable insight into Palestinian children’s perception of their environment. Certainly some of the pictures would not be flattering towards Israel, but to say it is “extreme anti-Israel propaganda” is clearly an overstatement. Americans — and the world — should be aware of the circumstances in Palestine, and censoring children’s art to protect Israel’s interests is sickening. Again, this proves that the U.S.’s relations with Israel override an open democracy and freedom of speech. Negative images of Palestinians is widely disseminated in the media, but they have no political power in the U.S. to control them. Israeli lobbies are strong enough to not only influence the U.S.’s political relationship with Israel, but also strong enough to censor Palestinian culture and art. This is very disturbing news, and hopefully some art gallery stands up to the pro-Israeli groups that want to hide Palestinian children’s drawings, and therefore their voices.

Were not Americans outraged over Muslims protesting over an image of Muhammad drawn as a terrorist? So anti-Muslim drawings are okay, but children’s drawings that criticize Israel’s control of Gaza are not?

Beyond Tradition: The Flaws of a ‘Neo-Capitalist Post-Democracy’

Change is the Only Constant

(NOTE: This is a draft of an essay that I plan to continually working on over time. There is already a significant amount of work here, and the basic thesis will remain the same, but this post will become somewhat of a “Manifesto” of this blog. This draft was originally published on September 7th, 2011, but I will continue to build on it and edit it, so read it now, check back often, and read it again.)

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. – Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852)

The quote above comes from Karl Marx’s critique of the French President turned Emperor Napoleon III, the nephew of the French Emperor of the early eighteenth century. Napoleon III was democratically elected president of the Second French Republic before leading a  coup d’état to become the Emperor of the Second French Empire. Marx’s abrasive critique of Napoleon III’s rise to power is, in my opinion, one of Marx’s best writings. One of the major problems he had with Napoleon III and the Second French Empire was that it appealed to French tradition of the Napeolonic Era, which French people adorned as a time of its great power and influence. Napoleon III lacked the leadership skills of his uncle, but he shared the name and appealed to that tradition, which gave him credibility with many French. Marx’s point was that — in a time of revolutionary distress — instead of embracing progressive or radical change, the French people and Napoleon III looked to the past to find names, symbols, imagery, that provided nostalgia for a supposed better time. In short, traditions of past generations haunt the beliefs of the living generation who cling to symbols of the past to find comfort during times of change. Marx’s quote relates to and can explain many conservative beliefs that continue to look to the past to resolve political problems.

Many Americans cling to a mythical tradition of the American Revolution without acknowledging its radical intent.  The United States experimented with a revolutionary government following its declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776. Instead of a monarchical government where a King and/or Queen rule the country, and pass on their power to their royal heirs, the “founding fathers” (or Framers) decided that the government should be represented by the people and for the people. Granted, their conception of “the people” was limited to land-owning (wealthy) white men, but the idea that people should directly influence and represent the government was still truly novel. The U.S. government was to be a democracy, or more accurately, a republic, and the Constitution was passed in 1787 that created state governments and a federal government, each with checks and balances to ensure no one person or faction could dominate American society. Despite its faults, and it had many, it was a revolutionary experiment that inspired other revolutions and created a precedent that future democratic governments modeled themselves on.

The industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism in the middle of the nineteenth century impacted the American democracy in ways that the writers of the Constitution never imagined. Thomas Jefferson believed that the self-sufficient American farmer represented the true identity of the American people. Although Jefferson’s vision was idealistic and impractical, it surely differed from the industrial capitalists that emerged in the late nineteenth century and ended up dominating American politics.

As capitalism developed, those who owned private property also owned the means of production, whether it be land, factories, tools, or natural resources. Prior to capitalism, most non-agricultural laborers had a skilled trade: they would build chairs, tables, clothing, etc., and often would sell or trade these commodities. Under capitalism, there was little need for skilled labor: factories could produce these commodities at a much faster and cheaper rate than individuals. As production of these commodities increased, so did the consumption of them, and therefore so did the wealth of the owners and managers of the factories. The wages for the laborers, however, lagged behind the rise of the capitalists’ profits, creating a large disparity in wealth. This disparity in wealth created new forms of political corruption and allowed the capitalists to influence politicians through their wealth, which provided them with a much stronger voice in government than the working class had. Workers attempted to form unions to empower themselves, but the capitalists used their wealth to overpower unions and  influence the government to continually side with the owners rather than the workers.

Even though the Framers of the Constitution favored the wealthy class, they never envisioned the extreme disparity of wealth and how the elite would end up using their wealth to dictate politics and dominate the working class. If the “founding fathers” anticipated these changes in the economy, they would have embraced changes to the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, who was truly a radical thinker for his time, knew that change is inevitable; as technology changes, so does the economy, and so does society, and the government needs to change with it. Hence, Jefferson oftentimes advocated frequent rebellions or revolutions to ensure the government would progress with the inevitable changes in society:

I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. (1787)

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion . . . And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them . . . The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. (1787)

These quotations have often been used to advocate rebellion from the right more than the left (see: Tim McVeigh), but the spirit of the quotes — in contrast to what some conservatives want to believe — is that, without rebellion, the government remains stagnant and fails to keep up to date with changes in society. I do not fully agree with them or advocate violent rebellions, but it is important to remember that what Jefferson was advocating was progressive change, not reactionary. In a sense, Jefferson’s quote is similar to the Marx quote from the beginning of this post; both Marx and Jefferson believed that progressive changes are necessary to keep up with changes in society, and neither wanted traditions to prevent the necessary political and social changes.  Just as Jefferson advocated progressive change away from the tradition of the British monarchy, he expected the people to continue to advocate progressive change along with changes in society.

With the rise of industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century, the economy and society went through a drastic revolution that gave an inordinate amount of power to the wealthy elite, who were able to directly influence the government to fit their agenda at the expense of others, but the government failed to  keep up to date with the changes. Granted, there were some changes to the government, and the outlawing of slavery was a significant step forward, but the failure to uphold Reconstruction allowed the South to maintain a racial caste system, and thereby prevented major changes. If blacks were allowed to participate in politics following the Reconstruction Era, and the ex-Confederates remained barred from participating in politics, the regional and national political system would have looked completely different. Imagine the shift in politics if blacks voted and the Confederate sympathizers could not; the poor and oppressed would have much more representation and influence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century government, and the wealthy would have much less. Perhaps then, and this is mere speculation, the white working class would have recognized the political power of blacks and welcomed an alliance with them, which would have been a strong challenge to the power of capitalism. Reconstruction provided the U.S. an excellent opportunity to adjust its government to the rise of capitalism, but the North grew tired of it, allowed the South to return to its tradition of a racial caste system, and embraced a form laissez-faire government with unregulated capitalism. Hence, little changed, and the same basic government ruled completely different societies and economies in 1787 and 1887.

Since then, capitalism has evolved far beyond what even Karl Marx envisioned. Capitalism has altered the structure of the entire world; there is not a country or society that is untouched by the effects of capitalism. Capitalists in Europe and the U.S. promoted imperialist policies that led them to colonize the rest of the world. Europe carved up Africa and most of Asia amongst themselves, while the U.S. dominated Latin America and attempted to spread its influence in Africa and Asia. Colonial empires drew up fabricated borders to mark their own territory without consideration of the ethnic and cultural differences of the people they attempted to rule, which continues to have disastrous consequences amid the postcolonial nations. Lenin theorized that the reason capitalism did not collapse as Marx had predicted was because imperialism provided new markets for capitalist nations to exploit, and therefore Lenin proclaimed that imperialism was the “Highest Stage of Capitalism.” Whether or not this is why capitalism did not collapse is irrelevant because either it undoubtedly helped capitalism thrive, and multinational corporations — another novelty unforeseen even by the early capitalists, not to mention the framers of the Constitution — actively pushed imperialist agendas on their governments. There are plenty of examples to prove this: the United Fruit Company set up puppet governments — so-called “banana republics” — in Guatemala and Honduras with the assistance of the U.S. government and military, which basically let the United Fruit Company to control nearly all of the land and exploit foreign workers to grow fruit that would be sold back to Americans; also, the C.I.A. overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran to install the Shah in order to preserve the Anglo-Persian Oil Company’s (APOC, which later changed its name to British Petroleum [BP]) access to its oil. These are only a couple examples of a long history of corporations using the power of the government to exploit the resources and labor of foreign countries. These are activities performed by a supposed democratic government, but the people had absolutely no say or knowledge of it. The corporations used their wealth to influence these illicit activities, and the American people only learned about them later.

Capitalism has tainted the U.S. democratic government in domestic and foreign affairs, and these are interrelated. The globalization of capitalism has allowed multinational corporations to reach markets throughout the world. As a result, they are able to exploit more labor while moving jobs from the U.S. to foreign countries where they are not required to provide workers adequate pay or rights. In addition, they are able to acquire more natural resources, and sell their commodities back to the people they exploit in the foreign markets. The globalization of capitalism has resulted in far more profits for the capitalist class, but has taken jobs away from Americans in favor of exploiting people in foreign nations with far less rights, therefore damaging the people in the U.S. and abroad. In the U.S., there is a decreasing need for laborers because technology has replaced them for cheaper and the productive sector has been moved almost entirely overseas, causing the U.S. labor force to become predominately a service industry. With all these changes in society and the economy, the government continues to operate under the same framework that it did 224 years ago. What the framers of the Constitution created was a good government for its time, but it is unrealistic to assume that the same government can operate with minimal changes after capitalism has revolutionized society. The government needs to progress and catch up with the changes in the economy and society since the late eighteenth century. This is not to say that the Constitution needs to be thrown out and completely disregarded; there is plenty to use and learn from it that is still relevant today. But to assume that the Constitution can be used the same way in 2011 as it was in 1787 is simply naive. Yet, Tea Party candidates continue to call themselves “Constitutional conservatives” and blast Obama for “violating the Constitution” (without ever actually pointing out how he specifically violated it). Thomas Jefferson would be disgusted about Americans’ lack of progressive reforms  over the last 224 years due to America’s adulation over a document written in 1776.

The American government has had some reforms since the industrial revolution: workers have more rights and protection, a minimum wage, a maximum amount of hours that can be worked in a week, the right to vote has been extended to minorities and non-whites, and other changes. Most of these advances took place under Theodore Roosevelt during the “Progressive Era,” under Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the “New Deal,” and in the 1960s thanks to the Civil Rights Movement and the counter-culture movement. However, in the large scheme of things, these have been minor political reforms compared to the significant changes that the economy has undergone over the past 150+ years. Capitalism is always years ahead of the reforms. By the time of Theodore Roosevelt’s reforms, the U.S. already began its imperialist interventions in other nations, allowing them to exploit labor and resources abroad. The majority of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” reforms only lasted a few years before a conservative Congress repealed them, causing the economy to go through a second wave of the Depression. The Civil Rights Movement had potential for revolutionary change, but the government — just like during Reconstruction — stopped short of going far enough with the changes. While outlawing segregation and providing blacks the right to vote was a step forward, it did not change the economic reality of the problems for black Americans, therefore keeping the majority of blacks in a lower class. In addition, the power of corporations by this time had become strong enough to minimize the significance of a new voting bloc. These changes, while progressive, did not go far enough and still trailed the advances of capitalism. Furthermore, to force these changes requires the people to express their frustration and determination in large numbers. Yet, it is becoming harder for Americans to understand the problems because it is easier for the mass media to manipulate Americans’ opinions.

The majority of Americans simply are misinformed about the political situation in the U.S. The unemployment rate is high, and corporate profits are also high, but whenever the idea of raising corporate taxes comes up, conservatives demand that it will take away jobs. As if a corporation, due to paying lower taxes, will hire unnecessary additional employees; or as if a corporation will go out of business and lay off its employees because it has to pay a slightly larger amount back to the government. If corporations decide to relocate overseas for cheaper labor, they should be penalized and be required to pay higher taxes. Conservatives insist that the government cannot create job; that only the private sector can create jobs. The idea that the private sector and public sector are completely separate is a myth; if the two were truly separate, then corporations should not be allowed to contribute to political campaigns or sponsor them, which they should not be able to anyway. Of course the government can create jobs in the public sector to boost the economy. Public schools and universities, police departments, fire departments, park services, museums, public hospitals, streets and highways, public transportation, etc. depend on money from the public sector to pay their employees. If the U.S. government wants to create jobs, it should invest more money in various departments in the public sector: education, museums, libraries, hospitals, fire departments, police departments, etc. Creating these jobs will provide more consumption, which is currently sagging, causing corporations to lay off even more workers due to the lack of demand. Yet, instead of raising corporate taxes and investing that money back into the public sector, the government — using the logic of the Tea Party — insists on cutting corporate taxes while cutting public spending to remove the country’s enormous deficit. Yes, the deficit is a problem, but the government’s solution to the deficit will only prolong it by keeping people out of work and pushing the economy back into a recession.

The idea that the government is wasting money by funding public activities is absurd. One of the U.S.’s greatest feats was the creation of public education. Public schools significantly advanced America’s education in the nineteenth century, and we should continue to support it. One has to assume that, if public education did not already exist, and Obama suggested it today, the Tea Party Republicans would maliciously attack him and declare that he is a communist until he is forced to surrender to their demands. Honestly, based on the mentality of many Americans today, the idea of the government funding a public program such as education seems fairly radical. Why should the government waste money into the public sector when the private sector can do better? Remember, the Tea Party tells us, the public sector cannot create jobs. Surely the idea of public schools must have come from some radical, perhaps even a Marxist. After all,  Karl Marx directly advocated  “free education for all children in public schools”  in the Communist Manfesto. So whose idea was public education in the U.S., and who strongly advocated it? Well, I’ll be damned, Thomas Jefferson was the first American to propose and strongly advocate the government funding public education. Furthermore, Jefferson’s emphasis on public education was to avoid biblical studies, because children are too young to make that choice for themselves, but instead he believed that children should learn history, which is one of the most neglected departments in the current U.S. While Jefferson believed, and stressed for the last decade of his life, that public education was necessary and significant for the U.S. to become a better country and better government because what good is a democracy if the voters are not intelligent? However, education is now looked down upon by the same people who — as reactionaries — believe we need to return to the tradition of the “founding fathers'” beliefs, while these conservatives ignore what they actually said.

The U.S. has become an anti-intellectual country where the brightest minds are outsiders because people see them as “ivory tower elitists,” and the market discourages people from becoming intellectuals because the demand for them is so low. As a result, intellectuals have little influence in the government, and the people support political candidates who reject intellectualism. The Republicans currently have two leading presidential candidates who openly reject evolution! Instead of listening to intellectuals, who are the most educated and informed of anyone about various issues, these candidates rely on the advice of the entities that use their wealth to support the campaigns of these political candidates: corporations and lobbies.

This is the problem with the mixture of capitalism and democracy in its current manifestation. All candidates need the support of corporations and lobbies to get elected, which makes them more important than the individual citizens who vote. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s now (in)famous quote that “corporations are people” makes all the more sense when one realizes that, in the game of politics, he is right: corporations are THE people; actually the people themselves are relatively meaningless in the U.S.’s “neo-capitalist post-democracy.” By “neo-capitalist,” I mean that capitalism has evolved beyond the capitalism that developed in the late nineteenth century; this new phase of capitalism is supported by workers’ unions, increasingly relies on foreign interventions, and it accepts limited government regulations as a way for it to survive without it actually changing the structure of capitalism; by “post-democracy,” I mean that democracy is no longer truly represents the people, but represents corporations and lobbies that have much more sway over elections and the government than the people themselves. Hence, a “neo-capitalist post-democracy” represents a government that maintains the structure of capitalism, but finds new markets to exploit and makes limited concessions to the domestic workers and governments only to to maintain its grip of power, while the democracy itself is completely dominated by the capitalist corporations and lobbies; thereby, the democracy is corrupted by an evolved form of capitalism that has adjusted to the political currents of the time, while the government itself has failed to make the necessary adjustments.

The citizen can vote for a candidate, but the available candidates are limited in what they can represent by who is funding them — the corporations and the lobbies. I already discussed the influence of corporations, but I have not discussed lobbies yet. The U.S.’s continued unfettered support of Israel, despite its human rights abuses and violations of international law, is the most obvious example of the power of lobbies. The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) provides an enormous amount of funding to both parties, and no candidate can win office without AIPAC’s support and the guarantee to support Israel in any event, while Palestine has virtually no representation in the government. Hence, the U.S. supports Israel in every issue and allows Israel to continue its occupation of the Palestinian territories. The American voter has no influence on the U’s relations with Israel and Palestine, and most Americans fail to even understand what the problem is in the Middle East. Actually, the U.S. government has no real influence on Israel / Palestine relations, because Israel will do whatever it wants in the region regardless of what the U.S. advises, but the government continues to pour money into them and defend them at every opportunity because politicians need to do so to get elected. Likewise, corporations throw money at politicians to demand they not raise taxes on them or enforce any new regulations on them, and the politicians follow because it is the only way they can get elected.  In an odd twist, I actually agree with Sarah Palin’s recent condemnation of “Corporate Crony Capitalism,” because she is right that crony corporations (and lobbies) cling on politicians and persuade them on policies. In an even more ironic twist, she works for Fox News, owned by News Corp., what is more corporate crony capitalism than that? This is not a Democrat or Republican thing, but every politician is a product of this, and there is no escaping it if one wants to get elected. One needs to depend on the profits of  How is that true democracy? It’s not, it’s a neo-capitalist tainted post-democracy.

Does anyone believe that this is what Thomas Jefferson or the other authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution envisioned when they wrote those documents? Of course not! Jefferson would have expected the government to have evolved with the economy and society instead of letting the the economy evolve and exploit the stagnant government. Meanwhile, conservatives rallying around the “Tea Party” attempt to co-opt Jefferson as if what he believed would represent them. Thomas Jefferson was radical for his time, and now he’s being pigeon holed into this conservative nostalgia for unregulated capitalism. Marx’s call that “tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living” when American politicians attempt to use a document from 1787 to solve the current political and economic crises. While the right attempts to co-opt Jefferson, here is obvious proof that Thomas Jefferson was a “leftist” for his time. The terms political terms “Left” and “Right” come from the French Revolution, when the revolutionaries who wanted change sat at the left of the King, while the loyalists who wanted to preserve the status quo sat at the right of the King. As a result, left represents progressives who want change, while the right represents conservatives who want to preserve the status quo. Jefferson, as an advocate of Republicanism and an admirer of French politics and culture, supported the “left” revolutionaries. Although he was critical of the violence that ensued, he still supported the revolution and the left, which — in addition to his own revolutionary politics in the United States — proves that he was radical for his time and he was not content with a conservative ideology that maintained the status quo.

Returning to the present, the current American government does not represent the individual citizen, but it represents corporations and lobbies while the people have minimal influence. For Americans to be heard, for change to happen, the people need to organize and demonstrate to force change (see: Civil Rights Movement), and it takes a lot of people to contribute a lot of work in order to make even just a little progress. It has become increasingly difficult, however, for Americans to organize for change when the public is increasingly misinformed by a mass media that is on a 24/7 news cycle that infiltrates every home and easily influences people’s perceptions. Again, this is why intellectualism is important for the improvement of the country; the U.S. needs more people who will seek out information on their own and not wait until it is delivered to them in a simplistic, convenient, and propagandistic format, and the people who are willing to research for themselves need to have more influence than the corporations and lobbies who are simply looking out for their own interests. The influence of Fox News on the right-wing swing since the Clinton era cannot be overstated. Americans have become paranoid due to the crazy conspiracies that Fox News spins out, and many people do not know who or what to believe. But again, this ties back to capitalism’s influence on democracy; not just anyone can start a cable news network with influential (though misleading) anchors, it takes a large corporation. News Corp.’s role in influencing the public through its various news outlets is pure propaganda; it’s essentially a reactionary version of muckrake journalism. Sure, MSNBC is liberal compared to Fox News, but its ratings are lower, meaning it has less influence, and its agenda is much more moderate. MSNBC does not push for radical change, while Fox News is extremely reactionary. Nonetheless, if people rely on either of these networks for their news and political sources, they will not be educated to vote in a logical manner, and certainly not educated enough to undermine the power of the corporations and lobbies.

While discussing the lack of education of America’s voters, I must reference Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent column. Recently, he was asked what he would do if he was president, and he answered that the problem is not with America’s politicians, but with America’s voters. I suggest you read the entire entry, but here is a sample:

One objective reality is that our government doesn’t work, not because we have dysfunctional politicians, but because we have dysfunctional voters. As a scientist and educator, my goal, then, is not to become President and lead a dysfunctional electorate, but to enlighten the electorate so they might choose the right leaders in the first place.

Indeed, Neil deGrasse Tyson is correct: to fix the U.S.’s problem, the electorate needs to be more educated to understand what they are voting for. Without a proper enlightenment, American voters cannot tear down the power of the corporations and lobbies that dominate American politics. Hence, Americans need to be properly educated and have an understanding of the world’s political situation for the country to achieve the changes necessary to adjust to the current dilemmas, and therefore, the U.S. needs to embrace intellectualism and allow the intellectuals to have a larger influence in the public discourse.

In the U.S.’s anti-intellectual culture, the intellectual’s voice is drowned out by rabble rousers, the corporate media, religious fundamentalists, and various corrupt political pundits. The U.S. needs to embrace intellectualism, as these are people who research on their own, learn to think for themselves, and consult widely diverse sources of information. They can express viewpoints that are not usually shared with the American public, and that Americans need to hear.  By intellectuals, I do not mean only academics and scholars, but anyone who has achieved an advanced education — whether credited or not — and is able to convey the current political realities without relying on reciting the main talking points from politicians and the mainstream media. But I do believe many intellectuals can be found in academia because these are people To support intellectuals, funding must be placed back into the public sector where more intellectuals can receive funding for their work. The sciences, while definitely  important, are not the only field needed to keep the U.S. up to date. If the U.S. government and culture continue to fall behind these so-called “postmodern” times, then the investments in science will not pay dividends in the long run. Without a politically and socially educated populace, the citizens will be unable to elect competent leaders, and the government will continue to remain stagnant. In their own right, intellectuals in the Humanities and Social Sciences also need to put their hubris aside in order to write in a manner that can communicate with more people and reach the masses. The excessive jargon in many academic books is unnecessary and counter-productive; personally, I am not impressed with how complicated a person can make their argument to understand, but I am impressed when an intellectual can convey their complicated message in a format for someone without an advanced degree to understand. Embrace intellectualism, but don’t isolate the masses with it. For change to happen, the masses are needed, and change is necessary.

When the U.S.’s “founding fathers” wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787, they created a revolutionary government for the time. Thomas Jefferson, who — despite his  flaws due to being a product of his time — was the intellectual architect behind many of the radical changes the U.S. adopted, rejoiced over the collapse of the monarchy representing the old regime that presided over the American colonies, and embraced the chance to establish a government that could lead the American people to progressive reforms. Jefferson, however, was well aware of the limitations of one government maintaining power for too long, and he realized that as technology, the economy, and society evolved, the government would need to evolve with it. Unfortunately, Jefferson’s calls for a progressive government have been unheeded due to the fact that conservatives continue to hold the Constitution as something set in stone that cannot be altered with the changes in society. When the Constitution was written, nobody foresaw the development of capitalism, which would dramatically alter the U.S.’s and the world’s economies and societies. The U.S. government’s response to the advancements of capitalism has been slow and behind the times. With such dramatic changes in the economy and society, the Constitution alone cannot be consulted to understand the current affairs. The government must change and adjust to the current times. Just as Marx recognized with the rise of Napoleon III, the nostalgia of tradition prevents people from recognizing the need for change, and one of the leading architects of the American Revolution and Constitution — Thomas Jefferson — would certainly agree. Both Marx and Jefferson realized that governments cannot remain stagnant or reactionary, but must changes with the changes in technology, economy, and society; yet, no American politicians would ever dare put Karl Marx and Thomas Jefferson in the same sentence, even though they were both radicals who refused to accept the status quo and expected continual change.

For those who read this and dismiss me as some “communist,” let me say that I am not a communist. I believe the ideology of communism has significant flaws as well. Since communism unfortunately ends up requiring the government to take the power in its own hands in the supposed transition of power from the state to the proletariat, it relies too much on a stagnant government as well because the supposed transitional government is reluctant to hand over its power. I oppose any system that accepts the status quo without pushing for continual and constant change to match the changes in society. When communist governments take power, they take the same approach as capitalist governments — they accept the status quo because it keeps them in power, and they refuse progress because it will remove them from power. I want continual progress without any end to it, but both capitalist and communist governments seek to restrict the progress so they can continue to maintain their power. I believe Marx’s theory of communism had serious flaws, but — contrary to what most critics of Marx will have you believe — that does not negate Marx’s critique of capitalism and his thorough analysis of the class struggle in history. The American Constitution, while a revolutionary document in its time, failed to account for the economic, technological, and societal changes that were to come within the next century, which is why the revolutionary thinker Thomas Jefferson assumed the people needed to continue to push for progressive and radical reforms to match the changes that came with society. While many Americans would think it is heretical to compare the philosophies of Jefferson and Marx, both were true revolutionaries who shared a radical belief that anticipated continual political progress to match the economic, technological, and societal changes, and both pushed against the idea of preserving tradition and the status quo.

Due to the recent failures of the world economy, there has been a resurgence of Marxist interpretations of capitalism. I will expand on this later, but for now, let me point you to a couple articles regarding this:

Nouriel ‘Dr. Doom’ Roubini: “Karl Marx was Right”

“A Point of View: The Revolution of Capitalism”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial: Revisiting His True Message

A Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was unveiled in Washington D.C. last week at the site he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The monument has become controversial not because King was a controversial figure in his time, which he was, but because of the amount of money spent on the monument, the fact it was created by a Chinese architect, and the belief that it misrepresents King.  There has been criticism that the monument is “communist” architecture, it has been criticized for representing a politically divisive king rather than one of an American Christian, and also that it portrays King as an “authoritarian figure” rather than someone who spoke of “racial equality for blacks.”  I think these criticisms are all overreactions, but I do not care to discuss the monument itself, but instead focus on King’s legacy. I reject the critics that say it misrepresents King because it does not focus exclusively on his “dream” of racial equality. If one wants to the monument to be meaningful, it is important for us to remember what Martin Luther King, Jr. really stood for instead of the image that many Americans have crafted of him. The “I Have a Dream” speech was an iconic and a significant moment in the Civil Rights Movement. The speech is best known for the stanzas where King discusses his dream, especially this one:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Ideally we could live in a nation where people are judged by their character rather than the color of their skin, but this quote has unfairly come to define Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy without the larger context of it and has often been misused to declare that “race doesn’t matter.” A recent polls shows that the majority of Americans believe “King’s dream” has been achieved, essentially stating that race no longer matters. After the election of President Barack Obama, conservatives immediately declared that racism was officially over and we achieved King’s dream; while at the same time many conservatives questioned Obama’s birth certificate and whether he was truly an American worthy of holding the presidency, as if those questions had nothing to do with race. King dreamed of race no longer mattering and led protests that contributed to the passing of Civil Rights laws, and Americans voted for a black president, but neither of those mean that race no longer matters. Ask the family and friends of the innocent black man in Mississippi who was beaten, run over, and killed by white teenagers looking for a thrill, and then bragged about it afterwards, if race no longer matters. You don’t even need to ask the black man’s family — just ask the white kids responsible for the racist murder if race no longer matters. That’s one violent and gruesome incident, but statistics also point to blacks getting less pay for the same amount of education, companies preferring to hire whites over blacks, blacks receiving stricter punishments for crimes, racial profiling, the differences in education, and people subconsciously react different to different races. Race matters! That does not mean we are racist and hate another race, but it means we need to recognize how race plays a factor in everyone’s lives and how we are conditioned to think of other races. Only when people realize how race affects them on a daily basis will we be able to start overcoming the problems of race. The “color-blind” approach does not work because it overlooks and denies the existence of racial problems that exist in society. If we realize that race matters — to everyone — we can begin dismantling the social construction of race and overcoming it, but as long as we pretend that we do not care about race, we are simply preserving the existing racial structure.

As I mentioned, the above quotation has come to define Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, but we need to look outside of that quote, and outside of that speech, to see what Martin Luther King, Jr. actually  stood for if we want to truly honor him instead of using him as a symbol to show the racism that once existed. King held more radical beliefs than most people now days are willing to recognize. Although Americans tend to focus on his desegregation message, King understood that desegregation was not the end of America’s problems and other things need to be addressed. One of the critics of the monument I linked to above argues that the monument should have portrayed King as an American Christian, and therefore left out some of the more radical and international quotes that are imprinted on it. Hence, I want to discuss King’s broader message; not that King’s racial desegregation message was not important, but it was not all that he stood for, and that is not what he should only be remembered for. We must pay attention to King’s larger message to truly appreciate and honor him. Let me point out just a few of King’s quotations that people who manipulate King’s image for their own purposes tend to ignore (thank you internet for helping me find these various quotes):

King on Vietnam:

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam.
I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak
for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I
speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the
leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

The bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.

King’s criticism of the U.S.’s growing involvement in Vietnam is generally known, but usually not considered to be part of his larger philosophy, which significantly limits King’s beliefs to a strictly American national approach instead of recognizing the struggle for rights as a transnational one. It is a transnational criticism of the war in Vietnam because King points out that poor Americans are paying for a war that has absolutely nothing to do with them, and the only thing that it is accomplishing is destroying the lives of people in Vietnam. The war in Vietnam harmed both the people in the United States and Vietnam, and therefore King understood the negative implications of the U.S.’s neo-colonialist Cold War foreign policy in a truly global approach. In addition, King — like Malcolm X — spoke out against the war in Vietnam before the large counterculture movement emerged and also reprimanded the war.

King on military spending:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching
spiritual death.

Like King’s criticism of the war in Vietnam, he realized that the U.S.’s excessive military spending (“the military industrial complex”) came at the expense of spending on social programs. While the U.S. continued to build up its military to threaten and dominate foreign markets, it increasingly reduced its funding of social programs that would have benefited the American people. The money spent on the military would benefit those who were heavily invested in the weapons industry as well as the wealthy capitalist class who could exploit the people and resources of foreign nations that had a neo-colonial regime forced upon them, meanwhile average Americans gained little to nothing from the military buildup, and often young Americans died for the benefit of the elite.

King on poverty:

The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of
civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant
animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

King’s call to abolish poverty is significant because he clearly understood that desegregation is not the final solution to America’s domestic political problems. I believe this is as important as any of King’s ideas, yet many Americans limit him to his calls for desegregation and his “dream” for people not to recognize people by the color of their skin. King was well aware that the U.S.’s domestic problem extended beyond just racial segregation; something had to be done about the disparity of wealth and the amount of Americans who suffer due to the limited regulations of capitalism. In King’s day, his critics called him a “communist” for pointing out the ineffectiveness of capitalism to deal with poverty. Of course, King was not a communist, but he also understood that strict capitalism failed to benefit the majority of the world’s people, and therefore King wanted fairer wealth distribution. In the 1960s, King’s opponents — from the Ku Klux Klan to the FBI — criticized him for pointing out the injustices of capitalism, but now most Americans ignore his criticisms of capitalism and focus only on his criticisms of segregation, as if he believed segregation was the U.S.’s only problem. Ironically, King went from being labeled a “communist” in the 1960s to now having his monument called “communist architecture.”

King on the purpose of religion:

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must
be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an
irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

This is a particularly interesting quote when considering the current political scene of the U.S. King, of course, was a reverend and a very religious man, but he — like America’s “founding fathers” — knew religion’s place in society and knew where it did not belong. The church should not rule the state; it should not have any power over the state or the political process. Instead, the purpose of the church is to provide morality to the people, and he believed a moral people would make better citizens and therefore a better state. Meanwhile, the so-called Tea Party candidates intend to use the church as a tool and interpret laws based on their religion.

King on the purpose of life:

If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.

This quote reminds me of two other advocates of black freedom and political progress who died were also prepared to die for it:

“The price of freedom is death.” – Malcolm X

“If you can’t find something to live for, then you best find something to die for.” – 2Pac

King, Malcolm X, and 2Pac all dedicated their life and careers toward something they would die for: freedom and progress; and each anticipated their own death, but did not let it stop them from promoting their messages.

While many people try to place Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the opposite ends of the spectrum during the Civil Rights Movement, if one compares their messages in the last years of their lives, he or she will find they have much more in common than is often believed. Neither one was willing to accept the status quo; Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a conformist who would settle with just desegregation, nor was Malcolm X an anti-white racist who wanted total segregation. They both desired a world where the rich would not exploit the poor, where the powerful nations would not colonize the underdeveloped nations, where the oppressor would not hold down the oppressed, where the military would not receive preference over the people, etc.

If we are to remember Martin Luther King, Jr., let us remember him for who he truly was and what he truly believed, and not what for some Americans want to pretend he stood for. He did not believe in American exceptionalism, that desegregation was the solution to America’s problems, or that Christianity should rule the government.