Selma will likely replace the TV miniseries Roots or the documentary Eyes on the Prize in the obligatory Martin Luther King Jr. viewing rotation.
Selma is a fine movie. It is also a product of the culture industry and racial capitalism.
While Dr. King is praised as American royalty in post civil rights era America, he has been robbed of all of his radicalism, truth-telling, and criticism of white supremacy and white privilege, the latter constituting a deep existential and philosophical rot in the heart of the American political and civic project.
The best way to kill a revolutionary or a radical is to give him or her a monument and a public holiday. James Earl Ray murdered Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. The milquetoast version of his radical politics as processed through the white racial frame and the American myth-making machine have murdered him a second time.
Ultimately, it is easy to love a dead man.
We cannot forget that Dr. King was hated by most of White America while he was alive.
Once more and again, racism is not an opinion.
Public opinion polling data from the 1960s highlights the high levels of white animus towards Dr. King, and the basic claims on human rights and citizenship made by African-Americans in the long Black Freedom Struggle and the civil rights movement.
Political scientist Sheldon Appleton offered this analysis and summary of Gallup polling data from King's era in an article published in 1995:
Appleton cites this data on animus towards Dr. King as measured by Gallup, here presented in its original form on the survey instrument:
While there have been great shifts in white Americans' public attitudes on race and racial equality, white animus in the form of a belief that African-Americans are "too demanding" about racism, and that black people are treated "fairly" in America, echo in the present.
The latter is bizarre: in 1968 Jim and Jane Crow was still very much alive in America, the Civil Rights Movement continued, lynchings, anti-black state violence, the KKK, and American Apartheid were not dusty memories--its victims and perpetrators were still alive...the past was not even past.
Appleton continues, highlighting the power of the white racial frame, and how whiteness and white privilege distort reality for too many White American in this summary of Gallup's data:
In 2014, Pew's public opinion polling data
echoed decades-earlier findings regarding racial attitudes and black "responsibility" for social inequality along the colorline:
Matters are also complicated in the post civil rights era
. African-Americans have internalized the logic of colorblind racism and symbolic racism:
A 53% majority of African Americans say that blacks who don’t get ahead are mainly responsible for their situation, while just three-in-ten say discrimination is mainly to blame. As recently as the mid-1990s, black opinion on this question tilted in the opposite direction, with a majority of African Americans saying then that discrimination is the main reason for a lack of black progress.
Racial attitudes and public opinion exist along a continuum in the United States. The past echoes in the present; the present is a function of the past.
It is easy to worship and memorialize the dead Dr. King.
Moreover, going to see a movie like Selma on Dr. King's holiday is not a substantive political act.
In the era of Vaudeville postmodern politics, the central question thus becomes, how are Americans, across the colorline, using his life examples and struggle to confront (or not) the culture of cruelty, white supremacy, terrorism and torture as state policy, and police murder and thuggery against black and brown people, as well as the poor?