Tuesday, January 16, 2007

That "King, Jr." really makes a difference

I read the other day that nearly 19% of U.S. college students believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. was fighting to abolish slavery. That's almost 1 in 5 college students who think that MLK lived a full century (at least) before he actually did. When I mentioned this atrocity to Torsten, he informed me that a lot of people in Germany believe that MLK was a son of Martin Luther (i.e., the German monk who nailed the 95 Theses to a church door in 1517).

I was initially horrified by this apparently widespread misconception (not least because it demonstrates an incredible lack of understanding of how family names are passed on). But then I realized that the U.S. tends not to be a trendsetter in the international arena when it comes to things like allowing equal rights to all people. Example #1: Even South Africa is ahead of us on gay marriage. Example #2: On the Wikipedia timeline of the abolition of slavery, the U.S. is the last industrialized nation on the list (unless you count early 20th-century China, and it's probably not a good sign if we have to resort to comparing ourselves to China to feel better about our human rights track record). Although, to be fair, we were right about in the middle of the pack with women's suffrage. But still not a trendsetter, regardless. (And we're not just deficient in the area of equal rights... we continue to stand with Australia, and in opposition to essentially the rest of the world, in our refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. After all, those crazy scientists are just pretending that global warming exists in an attempt to spread their underground socialist agenda across the world.) So since we aren't exactly setting ourselves up as the paragon of equal rights, the country whose movements should be followed by the rest of the world, why would people from other countries know about our influential historical figures?

Anyway. I spent 12 years of my childhood attending school on MLK Day so that we could celebrate his life and legacy. The past four years, the holiday has fallen over college winter break and I have more or less ignored it. But since this year it benefited me directly in the form of a day off from work, I figure the least I can do is think about it a little bit.


  1. I suppose, people think that our society is generally “equal” enough. There are no burning cars in the streets anymore and no signs in window displays, not allowing black people inside. Today’s inequalities are a lot more subtitle and therefore harder to notice and get upset about.

    One of the biggest sources of inequality today is education. Good education makes the difference if someone “bills” at $8, $80 or $800/hour. Studies clearly show that how successful you will be in life (success of course equals monthly income) does not so much depend on how clever you are, but on your parents’ social situation.

    A couple of years ago I experienced a “situation” that made me think about this problematic a bit more. Coming back to Germany to visit my parents, I saw one of my best childhood friends standing on the back of a garbage truck. When he was a teenager, his parents did not care too much about his education, to a point where they refused to help him pay for college. I have no reason to believe that he would have done any worse than I did at College and later University.

    The phenomenon of social inequality is not as spectacular as the infuriating discrimination of people on the basis of their skin color.

    One more example for rather unnoticed inequality is the significant lack of women in executive positions (in business like in politics). There are hardly any women CEO’s in fortune 500 companies. Apart from cultural reasons, there is a simple biological cause. Woman, unlike man, get pregnant. They take more time off before and after the child arrives than man. During this time, everyone else advances in their jobs, while the woman “loses touch” and often is doomed to start again at a lower position. Of course we all know about this issue. But it’s not really screaming at us like burning cars clearly do.

    Then there are, the “gay debate” (no burning cars), ongoing latent racism (but not the kind that comes with burning cars), age discrimination (hardly any burning cars there either), disability, religion and many more. Sometimes one of these issues does make the news. However, mostly society simply accepts that we are not all equal.

    Solving all the above issues can only be the job of “our” politicians. I will not comment on how optimistic I am in this regard.

    Out of pure interest, do you guys know Ludwig Erhardt, Gordon Brown or Sophie Scholl? All important European figures who have influenced the course of history in Europe.