Civil Rights Movement: How Dare You Compare!
I’ve often seen the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s held up in a sort of strange but lofty isolation from other social justice movements, to the point where people almost seem to regard it as the only real legit social movement to which all others look silly and petty in comparison and Martin Luther King Jr. is the Best Activist Leader Ever, and the whole thing including him as prophet was anointed and blessed by God. I’ve seen this portrayal by everyone from Black men and women to both white liberals and conservatives. Along with this ideology is the belief that racism is the worst form of oppression, and anyone who tries to compare it with other forms of oppression or their own movement with The Movement, is being racist and appropriating from Black people.
It’s hard to articulate exactly where I’ve seen this, though I think it was a more common tactic in the earlier 2000s and 1990s. As I’ve read and listened to more writing and speeches by women and queer people of color, in particular I have come to realize the disrespectful attitudes white feminists and white GLBTQ movement activists have had towards communities of color and their struggles. When we hear this narrative, we need to question who is promoting it and who is framing it, and what is their agenda? Who are they trying to win over or alienate? Likewise, women, queer and disabled people of color are in the strongest positions to critique these ideas- they can speak from their own experiences about how racism is similar and different from other types of oppression. The view of MLK as the Best Leader the Black Community Will Ever Have is very self-defeating and oversimplified. He was a great man surely, but like any man he was flawed. He is given way too much credit while many women such as Ella Baker, and Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was responsible for much of the organizing of the March on Washington, are all too often forgotten by historians. This is the case with *every social movement* or field of art or science for that matter. Each one has many people who played key roles, but were more introverted, too ill or disabled, or female, or queer, or radical to be in the spotlight, or did not have the means to access education or travel or media coverage. That’s why I really enjoy reaching into history and remembering those who have been forgotten as my activist ancestors.