It has been 30 years since the first official national recognition of Martin Luther King’s birthday as a National Holiday in 1986.
Much changes in thirty years. Undoubtedly articles across the web today will mention how Arizona, the place I live, did not initially observe the Martin Luther King Federal Holiday when it was first designated as a Federal Holiday. Few will mention that universities in Arizona, such as the University of Arizona that is just down the street from me, now close for the day. Things change.
This is wonderful. No ifs, and or buts apply.
But Presidents’ Day is not observed here. So I think that culturally, Arizona, has learned to cooperate, but it has also learned how to maintain the status quo.
Arizona, as a state, as a political entity, represents the surface level, though probably not conscious action, of cultural incorporation of the most threatening element to the state’s existence.
This is how large scale culture works. Only the most threatening emergent processes are swallowed up by established processes. Incorporated or integrated processes are subsumed into mass culture.
Rome knew this. Its military did not destroy the lands and peoples it conquered. They incorporated them into the empire.
I firmly believe that the MLK Day controversy was a much deeper and more profound cultural controversy than it appeared when it was happening. It was not just about honoring a black minister who was the leader of a civil rights movement, although that facet of Martin Luther King’s life was more than worthy of such recognition. It was about all the changes that would be necessary to create a country in which character, a person’s enacted essence, matters more than any physical trait, level of education, or the amount of money had by the family of origin. The powers that were, and still are, did not want King’s egalitarian honor to be central to our nation.
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.
These “powers that be” may not even realize that they are engaged in the attempt to render ineffective that thing, concept, or process that they outwardly laud. We are all part of a hugely complex cultural system comprised of 8 million individuals with effectively infinite connections between those people and cultural norms derived from the efficacy of millennia of civic development that draws upon humanity through time and not just space. No one of us understands how culture works. We can identify pattens and talk about statistical likelihoods. We are a part of the system and cannot be apart from or outside the system. All our understanding is subjective and limited by our biological nature as part of the physical universe.
This lofty, and probably overly intellectual presentation, of the perspective that “things are not as they seem” boils down to a core sentiment, ancient sentiment expressed by Sun-Tzu that “we should hold our friends close, but our enemies closer.”
Women, minorities, and oppressed groups where I live have the same number of days off through Federal Holidays, if their workplaces observes MLK Day, which way more than 50% do not observe, according to a BNA report, than before this holiday was recognized. The number is the same because a previously state observed holiday, Presidents Day, was no longer sanctioned as a day off. The new holiday simply replaced the old one after the outcry about Arizona’s purportedly racist decision to not give state-employed workers an additional holiday with the Federal recognition of Martin Luther King’s birthday as a Federal Holiday. State and corporate employers juggled the system to their economic advantage, or at least not to their loss.
I’m not denying that racist individuals exist in Arizona. They do. But oligarchic concerns came out on top in the MLK-cluster-bleep that defined Arizona and economic loss beyond boycotts and football games.
We have much work to do to as women cultural leaders to bring that dream of a character-based culture into existence. National holidays should be honored because of the importance of the ideas behind them, not because of economic consideration. Honor and character need to be given more weight in our society.