“The road to freedom is a difficult, hard road. It always makes for temporary setbacks. And those people who tell you today that there is more tension in Montgomery than there has ever been are telling you right. Whenever you get out of Egypt, you always confront a little tension, you always confront a little temporary setback. If you didn’t confront that you’d never get out.
You must remember that the tensionless period that we like to think of was the period when the Negro was complacently adjusted to segregation, discrimination, insult, and exploitation. And the period of tension is the period when the Negro has decided to rise up and break aloose from that. And this is the peace that we are seeking: not an old negative obnoxious peace which is merely the absence of tension, but a positive, lasting peace, which is the presence of brotherhood and justice. And it is never brought about without this temporary period of tension. The road to freedom is difficult.”—Martin Luther King
I think King’s insight may explain some of the increasing political violence and violent rhetoric we’ve been dealing with in the 21st century.
As I said last year, I think at least some of the white rage fueling the right wing stems from resentment that within the past 60 years we’ve gone from a society that accepted white male Christian (particularly Protestant) straight supremacy to one which doesn’t; the advantages are still there, but they’re smaller and no longer accepted as the way things should be.
But I wonder if it isn’t also the fact that if you look back 60 years (and the Tea Party movement skews rather old), and you’re white, male, Protestant, straight—or any combination of the same—it’s easy to convince yourself that the country was really much better off.
Back then there were lots more good jobs available, and to get one you simply showed up and proved you were the best qualified. No blacks or Latinos or women complaining they’d been excluded from consideration or that they deserved “special” treatment.
Back then, if the president held a memorial service, it would be a mainstream Protestant ceremony acceptable to all Americans. No Indians showing up and preaching paganism, and no atheists complaining that the president’s language excludes nonbelievers (something that came up on this Slacktivist thread last week).
People didn’t question that the government knew best about security. We let the FBI and the CIA do their job to protect us and didn’t let those left-wingers act like they were real Americans.
You could get married on a union salary, make enough for your wife to stay home and everyone agreed that women were perfectly happy that way.
You didn’t have debates over including black and women authors in lit classes just because of their race. Everyone knew the canon of greatness had stood for centuries (note: Anyone who tells you that it has is wrong. If time were the deciding factor, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Harper Lee wouldn’t be “canon.”) and it couldn’t just be changed overnight.
History concentrated on the way white people built this country; that was, after all, the story of all Americans. Special-interest groups didn’t run around demanding that their insignificant activities or their supposed suffering be treated as equal to the great white leaders (as witness Tennessee’s Tea Party is now demanding we get back to traditional old-school history).
As King points out, the reason everything was so much smoother wasn’t that the issues weren’t there, it’s that nobody was bringing them up. Gays were in the closet, women were in the home (not as much as popular image has it, though), minorities knew their place. Nobody spoke up; everything was calm and happy. At least if you weren’t a minority, woman, gay, etc.
Only now the Israelites are moving out of Egypt (they’ve been moving for most of my lifetime, but they haven’t crossed the Red Sea yet). And Pharaoh’s people are horrified. Their rage isn’t a sign of defeat, it’s a sign they see themselves losing. In many ways, they’ve already lost.
I believe King was right. We will overcome—we being anyone who believes the equality the Founders spoke of belongs to all Americans and that some are not more equal than others.
But it’sll be along hard road. And Pharaoh’s troops aren’t giving up.