I actually had this conversation with a friend this weekend. I’m fully aware of Gandhi’s shortcomings and the evil he lived while he spread messages of peace. But the thing that I feel most people miss in this moral inconsistency is the ability for a person or a message to serve more than more purpose and create more than one impact. The flaw of cultural symbolism is that complicated humans and multifaceted ideas become simplified and narrowed in their associations the further they travel from their origin. And as much as I appreciate factuality for the sake of argument, I value practicality and outcomes over purism. Gandhi was an evil AND awesome guy. He did terrible things AND he did wonderful things (even if the only thing you can consider wonderful was giving voice and acting as a symbol for peace long after he died). I get the emotional inclination to BRING JUSTICE to the unjust. You may be thinking, “Oh he was such a __fill in the blank terrible word__, he shouldn’t be given credit for half of what he’s credited for!” But he’s dead, so there’s no justice to be had regarding him personally at this point. Sure, by all means go after legacy if you must. But the cultural fact is that at this point he is only a symbol, which has done so much good for humanity. If you do still wish to tear him down, please be prepared to replace his impact. I’d hate to see anyone who dedicates themselves to reducing the harm in this world end up accidentally increasing it. You may just be seeking to destroy an unjust messenger, but just make sure you don’t also destroying a just message.
On April 4th, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, TN. It was not until years later in 1999 that the truth of the mass conspiracy to murder Dr. King was proven in court.
After four weeks of testimony and over 70 witnesses in a civil trial in Memphis, Tennessee, twelve jurors reached a unanimous verdict on December 8, 1999 after about an hour of deliberations that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. In a press statement held the following day in Atlanta, Mrs. Coretta Scott King welcomed the verdict, saying , “There is abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. And the civil court’s unanimous verdict has validated our belief. I wholeheartedly applaud the verdict of the jury and I feel that justice has been well served in their deliberations. This verdict is not only a great victory for my family, but also a great victory for America. It is a great victory for truth itself. It is important to know that this was a SWIFT verdict, delivered after about an hour of jury deliberation. The jury was clearly convinced by the extensive evidence that was presented during the trial that, in addition to Mr. Jowers, the conspiracy of the Mafia, local, state and federal government agencies, were deeply involved in the assassination of my husband. The jury also affirmed overwhelming evidence that identified someone else, not James Earl Ray, as the shooter, and that Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame. I want to make it clear that my family has no interest in retribution. Instead, our sole concern has been that the full truth of the assassination has been revealed and adjudicated in a court of law… My husband once said, ‘The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ To-day, almost 32 years after my husband and the father of my four children was assassinated, I feel that the jury’s verdict clearly affirms this principle. With this faith, we can begin the 21st century and the new millennium with a new spirit of hope and healing.”
(via The King Center)
New spirit of hope and healing Sister Coretta said… That was 1999. It’s 2014 and most people still don’t know their government conspires to murder leaders of color.
This is an important event in history, especially Canadian and feminist history. So I’m going to tell you more about it.
1) The shooter had been rejected from Ecole Polytechnique prior to the shooting. He blamed this on these female students, claiming that they were feminists who ruined his life.
2) In the first classroom he entered, he demanded the men leave before shooting at the women. No man attempted to stop him as they left. Take that as you will. (Later on, several men did get injured trying to stop him in the hallways.)
3) In his suicide letter, he believed that feminists were attempting to be more powerful than men, and were trying to take men’s rights away.
4) Feminists were actually blamed by some for the massacre. The line of logic was “if feminists didn’t make women’s rights an issue, Levine wouldn’t have wanted to kill feminists!” Victim blaming at its finest.
5) The mainstream news media often did not publicize the outrage from women’s groups, and often preferred those who took a calm approach. Ironic, that.
6) Despite him literally having a hit list of feminist icons in his final letter, several newscasters questioned whether or not the shooting was a sexist act, some even denying the idea outright.
8) Many memorials for the victims have been created, and rightly so; however, some prominent ones were erected in poor neighbourhoods where many Native women were killed every day in the same time period as the shooting (see: Marker of Change, Vancouver) (see: Missing Women, Vancouver). Basically, white feminism happened.
The entire event was nothing short of a tragedy, and I recommend that everyone read up on it and the resulting aftermath. It’s… interesting to see how the media tried to turn it into a random act of psychopathy instead of what it was (we know better now, luckily). The reactions (memorials, etc) to the deaths of these 14 White, middle class women as compared to the deaths of 60+ Native, lower class women are also “interesting” to compare. (By interesting, I mean infuriating.)
The unspoken casualty of using our culture’s obsession with surface level beauty as a means to determine a woman’s societal value is the creative potential that has been stolen from her and stolen from all of us. When a woman is psychologically enslaved by the internal fluctuation of her own insecurity, she is not able to ever fully devote herself to anything else. Always bubbling on the back burner of her being, her mind is consumed with comparing her body against the mental rolodex of manufactured images of beauty that she has internalized. And her heart must bear the weight of knowing those comparisons will be used as cultural prerequisites to determine her holistic worth.
While in recent years there has been a movement of discussion on the topic of body image and self-esteem, there is a fatal flaw in our conception of the problem we think we are answering. We think the problem is that women don’t think highly enough of their bodies because of the standards of beauty which are placed on them. So we address this predicament by promoting messages that say “EveryBODY is beautiful!” so that woman can rest assured and move on with their lives. While this sentiment may be genuine and even have a great deal of truth, society has answered the issue of body-centrism with further body-centrism.
To truly illustrate the issues with this assumption, let me bring some research to light. According to Stanford researcher Carol Dweck (http://is.gd/ae74Hw), praise can have an inverse effect, especially on young people. When children were told they were smart they were less likely to choose activities that were more challenging. They internalized the value judgement they were given, “I am smart” and acted to ensure that this message of inherent value could not be damaged, ie: “If I do something new and fail, it must mean I’m not smart.” In the same way, woman who are told they are physically beautiful do not focus less on the external, but more, as to maintain and improve upon the state from which they were originally judged and considered valuable.
If we truly wish to free woman from the psychological enslavement of body-centrism, we must change the focus of the conversation. While a certain amount of focus on physical attractiveness is a biologically engrained part of being human, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard of holistic beauty that serves to foster the growth and development of all people. For where would we be had MLK, Einstein, or Gandhi been consumed with such all encompassing surface level preoccupations? We will never know the loss of innovation and creative genius that our societal ills have caused. But let us have such a powerful shift in our personal and collective cultural values that we will not have to guess in the future.