We Shall Overcome

Martin Luther King Jr.

I honestly feel that with the world currently being the way it is, the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. are more important to our current society than ever. Today made me think about the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which may be right behind the “I have a dream” speech as one of King’s most famous and important writings. I thought about it because of that famous line about just and unjust laws:

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

This still rings true today. We may not have laws that are explicit in their racial connotation (i.e., no laws that say white people can do something that black people can’t), but there are plenty of laws that overtly do this. Take, for example, voting laws in many states that don’t explicitly outlaw minorities from voting, but aim to make it more difficult to vote by adding requirements that are harder for minorities to meet. Also consider laws that are designed to limit abortions by making it harder for doctors to perform them by adding draconian stipulations on what make a clinic pass muster. Hell, even think about the process in which prosecutors hide from having to indict a white police officer for killing a minority by hiding behind a grand jury. What you have is what King described succinctly:

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

That was America 50 years ago. And it’s still America today. We can claim to be more enlightened about things all we want, but we’re not. Almost all of us revert back to these ingrained ways whether we know it or not. It’s not because we’re bad people, per say, but it’s just human nature, for better or for worse.

There is also this:

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

No one should let the role that the church did and did not play in the Civil Rights struggle, because I think it’s still valid today. I don’t think that these problems have gone away. In fact, the church is one of the last places that there is vociferous opposition to gay marriage, which is as much of a Civil Rights issue today as race is. It becomes very easy to hide behind the cloth in the defense of the status quo.

I think that what I am trying to say is that what Martin Luther King Jr had to say and what he did are just as important now as they were 50 years ago. We need to remember less for what was accomplished as much as what remains to be accomplished and what we have given back over this time. Every time a person of color is denied their rights, we need to remember. Every time a white cop thinks its defensible to shoot an unarmed black man without fear of retribution, we need to remember. Every time a woman loses her right to choose what is best for her body, we need to remember. Every time a gay person cannot experience the same joys of matrimony that their straight counterparts can, we need to remember. In this day and age, memory is power. And if we remember well enough, we might get to that mountaintop yet.

Fight the Power

Radio Raheem

Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. It’s a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cain iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that’s right. Ooh, it’s a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he’s down. Left-Hand Hate KOed by Love.

–Radio Raheem

In the wake of the expected, yet unfortunate news that Darren Wilson won’t be charged in Michael Brown’s killing and the violence that is sure to follow, I felt like this was more important than ever. It’s very easy to give in to the hatred that has been simmering under the surface in the months since this shooting. Yet, wouldn’t it be something if we rose above it all and conquered the world with love and not hate.

Just something to think about. Always do the right thing.

Natural Blues

Christina Ricci and Moby

2014 marks some the anniversary for some absolutely fantastic albums, so I thought it would be fun to write about some of my favorite albums that came out a gulp long time ago. This is the first post of a multi-part series.

Eminem may have been right that no one listens to techno anymore, but for one glorious moment in 1999, a bald headed vegan techno DJ became a big deal in the music world, almost by accident. If you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that Moby had such a blip of success. When Play came out in May of 1999, he was a has-been DJ. After getting a major label deal in the mid 90s, he put out Animal Rights, a punk record that turned off both critic and fan alike. There were low expectations for Play, and it was slow to take off once it was released. Yet, history has a funny way of making something of nothing, and now we regard Play as the high point of Moby’s career, exactly at the point he thought he was washed up and was ready to get out of the music business all together.

It’s funny how it happens too, because Play is an album that’s really all over the place. Everyone remembers the Alan Lomax stuff, and for good reasons. “Honey”, “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?”, “Run On”, and “Natural Blues” are all phenomenal songs. To be frank, “Natural Blues” is still my all time favorite Moby song. Yet, there’s a lot more going on here. There’s a lot of wonderfully ambient stuff on this album. Most people remember “Porcelain”, which while not being one of the best ambient songs Moby’s ever done, is quite good. There’s even some more rock sounding stuff on here. If there’s one thing people really remember, it’s the video from “South Side”, and mostly because Gwen Stefani was in it. She wasn’t even on the album version of the song. Apparently, she was supposed to be, but something happened and they couldn’t get her on it, but she’s in the video (and in subsequent pressings of the CD, they include the version with her in it, so you’re something of a fan if you have the original one with just Moby singing on it). That was the thing that really launched Moby out there.

Well, that, and the fact that Play was the first album that had every single one of its tracks licensed for a commercial, movie, or TV show (this is a pretty good telling of just how that happened. Tanking your career with an album that everyone hates makes for some interesting ideas on how to market your next work). It’s only happened twice since apparently. You may not remember hearing that song on the radio, but you sure heard it on every other commercial you saw on TV between 1999 and 2002 or so. It’s one of those fantastic things that happens to come together and serendipitously make an album that was expected to do nothing in sales actually do several million sales and become the album everyone remembers you for.

Of course, what goes up must come down, and it didn’t really take Moby all that long to come back down. The albums that followed have never generated the same level of buzz and Moby has retreated to being a niche artist these days, but I still love him. And for a brief moment 15 years ago, so did everyone else.