Sunday, January 16, 2005

Recommended Reading for Martin Luther King Day

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, which, sadly, is the least celebrated official federal holiday. Cynically, I might attribute that to many white Americans thinking "oh, that's a black holiday, it's not our holiday". Optimistically, I could attribute it to just being too close after Christmas and New Years for another holiday. But MLK was a great man and an inspirational example for all Americans. And this day is a day for all of us. King would not have it any other way. Here are some recommendations for recognizing the holiday with some appropriate reading:
  1. Read his speeches. Even better, look and listen. King was a brilliant orator.
  2. Read the prophet Amos. This is the source of one of King's famous passages "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream" (Amos 5:24, cited in King's "I See the Promised Land" speech). It's a short book tucked away at the back of the Old Testament, but filled with the great language of a prophet railing against the injustice of a people who abuse their obligations to the poor and defenseless, while going through the motions of religious piety.
  3. Read Shelby Steele's A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America. This book is imperative reading for anyone wrestling with the issue of the justice of racial preferences. While Steele believes that racial preferences defy the best democratic principles of our country, this book reaches more profoundly than that argument. Steele offers a powerful analysis of why racial politics remain so compelling, even as their practical effect is to work against their purported goal of freedom and equality. He ultimately broadens his analysis to find that the success of racial identity politics has inspired the spread of a whole market in redemption for any group that can claim to be aggrieved. This enlightening diagnosis rings all too true. (My full review is about the 4th one down on Amazon, or can be found here.)

No comments: