Ryan Chartrand

After big wins, victors often tell sportswriters that the fruits of their labor were the result of a “team effort.”

“Uh-huh,” the journalists usually think, shuffling the response into the recesses of their minds as they talk to the individual leaders, the movers and shakers who carried most of the burden for the success.

If American society has been the collective reporter for the ongoing struggle that is the Civil Rights movement, it surely has taken this individualized worship to numbing heights – ones that blind people from ideals in favor of a person – and an incomplete and inaccurate, yet morally unobtainable portrayal of the person at that.

Of course, heroification of historical figures isn’t exclusive to the Civil Rights movement. As with past presidents who get elevated to fairytale-like pedestals, for example, despite their gamut of flaws, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s singular near-deification following his assassination has unfortunately shifted the focus from what he stood for, to him.

Just like the aforementioned presidents, King wasn’t perfect, although this country’s school system propagates such, moving his accomplishments farther away from our sense of personal capabilities.

By many reputable accounts, he was a womanizing adulterer and may have plagiarized some of his writings.

But the parts of his life that have been excised from the Pollyanna, high-school textbook narration used to distract would-be progressive thinkers from his contributions – and how the powers that were in this country wanted to stonewall his ideals – to focus more on him, neither begin nor end there.

Because the other omitted portions of the story of King, who was actually born and may have officially died Michael King, are incomparably worse on the side of this country’s own government, which repeatedly tried to stop him – and kill him.

Capitalizing on childhood suicide attempts King made, for example, J. Edgar Hoover, as the iron-fisted ruler of the FBI, endorsed letters sent to King urging him to take his own life.

Yet such a sinister piece of history would never weave its way into what has become the result of a transmutation of the man’s vision and the man.

If the story of the man is deliberately incomplete and skewed from every angle, anyway, that story shouldn’t be the focus.

But this happens because it’s easier to frame his life in a safe, calming, unified and impeccably pristine context. That way, what could most resoundingly be gleaned from his legacy – true equality for all subjugated and persecuted – becomes secondary to images of a tangible person, a person who ceased to live decades ago.

What could be a heightened focus on the 9,080 hate-crime offenses reported in this country in 2006 (on bases of race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity and national origin and disability) is supplanted by a familiar, unchanging, annual holier-than-us remembrance of one person.

This stagnant, it-was-all-about-him fixation impedes what could be even more progress for minorities of all kinds.

Ultimately, the simplified, black-and-white, he-just-talked-about-race-and-nothing-more version of events imparted from childhood in this country leaves out some of the other beautiful parts of King’s legacy – ones that we still can learn from.

Even though his legacy is still broadly invoked by politicians who engage in unnecessary wars – and people who support them – King pacifistically denounced the Vietnam War before he died.

Even though to this day his legacy is still broadly invoked by politicians who seek to ban gay marriage – and people who support that position – King was against injustice everywhere, and was married to a woman who said, “I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

An even more valuable day could be spent seeing through the myth-building and the simplified individualizing that has obfuscated him, and so much more importantly, his legacy.

Because civil rights always has been – and always will be – a team effort. Countless unsaid have done their part, and continue to do so, on behalf of every imaginable oppressed group.

Be one of them, at least in thought.

Don’t focus simply on one exalted man who really wasn’t so much different from our own human, fallible, yet socially maturing selves with potential to enact positive change.

He wouldn’t have wanted that.

This day and age presents new obstacles for different minorities in ways that may not have been fully realized in King’s day.

Today, remember more what he stood for, and how he stood for it for everyone – not just those facing the same particular discrimination he did.

Donovan Aird is a Mustang Daily reporter and journalism junior.

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