School of Social & Political Sciences Principal Lecturer, Mr Liam McCann has kindly written a brilliant piece for us about Martin Luther King Day and its ongoing importance.
‘The ongoing importance of Martin Luther King Day, our human rights and civil liberties brings together many of the concepts developed in my recent research. As a critical criminologist, the intended pejorative description of criminology as a pilfering discipline, which allegedly fails to respect the academic boundaries of more ‘traditional’ subjects, does not offend me. On the contrary that self-determination to breach academic barriers excites me, as my most recent contributions on Authoritarian Populism, Censorship, Hegemony, Multiculturalism, National Identity and Rendition in Morley, S. et al eds. (2017) A Companion to State Power, Rights and Liberties, Bristol: Policy Press exhibits some of the breadth of my research interests. These specific areas, as my eight earlier contributions to this companion series, are pertinent to the continued relevance of Martin Luther King Day, not just to the USA, but the wider world and certainly Brexit ‘bound’ GB.
The overtly racist USA of the 1960s flaunted authoritarian populism, as white mobs aligned themselves with policing policies and practices which repressed so many others in the Black, LGBT and working class communities of an unambiguously multicultural society, but in denial of that fact. The dominant hegemonic political culture therein sought to resist progressive social and political reforms, and censor and repress their opponents. But with the overtly liberal and Christian Dr Martin Luther King, they struggled to caricature him as a subversive threat. King’s ‘simple’ dream of a world wherein everyone was treated with respect and dignity, and not judged by the colour of their skin, had and has a simple rationale firmly located in classical principles of equality before the law.
But that dream has yet to be achieved, as racism has been reinvigorate by the repugnant caricaturing of purportedly alien cultures, and the alleged threat these pose to a fictional and romanticised ‘western’ culture. The presumption of modernity as an incontestable facilitator of intellectual, political and social progress, is clearly called into question by the contemporary and their regressive attacks on hard-won rights and freedoms. The attempt to reshape American national identity was exemplified in the Black Power salutes at the 1968 Olympics and is echoed contemporarily in the Black Lives Matter kneeling during the American National Anthem. That has led to the predictable attempts to censor and marginalise those Black Americans, whose constrained gestures of protest, is portrayed as an unjust offence and anti-American. Yet at the same time black deaths are too often normalised as the inevitability of being black and therefore allegedly potentially suspect of anything and/or everything.
Martin Luther King was an exemplar of the power of the weak to resist and seek justice. Bernadette Devlin said of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement’s resistance to sectarian discrimination: “If the Black people of America could take on that great state, we could take on this tuppenny-ha’pennyone!”
That Civil Rights inspiration has inspired many of the most socially marginalised and criminalised to challenge their repression and resist their labels as ‘deviants’ and demand respect and social justice. Research may not provide the ‘answer’ but it should always seek to stimulate the necessary reflection upon who and what we are, what we want to achieve and why. Reflecting upon what Martin Luther King achieved invites that necessary and rewarding thoughtfulness.’
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