Two years ago, I wrote about Martin Luther King in Heroes With Blemishes. But last year I tackled something else which I will reprint here:
Why is it that schools and the post office are closed on Martin Luther King Day when they aren't on Washington and Lincoln's birthdays (as they once were)? Instead, we have combined their birthdays into one, calling it "Presidents Day". It's as if we've decided that these amazing men don't each deserve a holiday of their own.
If two great Presidents can be so disregarded, why are we making such a fuss over a man who was not even the leader of our nation? I'll grant you that he was 'a' leader, but hardly a leader as powerful as a U.S. President.
Before anyone cries 'racist' (as inevitably happens when a white person discusses a black issue) let me assure you that one of my very best friends is black. So please... table the label.
For the sake of argument, it could be said that although MLK was not as powerful as a President, he was certainly a major leader for black people in this country, and I would agree with that. But what about alternative icons such as Booker T. Washington who has no recorded instance of cheating on his wives (he was widowed twice) and also never plagiarized a single paragraph (unlike MLK)?
Is Booker T. Washington so far removed from our lowered standards that he seems like an almost fictional character?
What of George Washington Carver, who made contributions to not simply a small segment of society but to society as a whole, while serving as an upstanding role model? Is he also to be disregarded because he is simply 'old school' and our modern work ethic (or lack of it) cannot come close to his standards?
Sometimes it is easier to idolize people who are obviously flawed, in the subconscious belief that we are somewhat better in comparison. And when someone is only marginally better than we are, the goal seems more achievable. Yet shouldn't we hold up men and women who represent what we should be and not what we are? Shouldn't our heroes be men and women who have achieved accomplishments and lived honorably? I ask this of all the races.
Yet for many of us, our role models are Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Donald Trump, Tom Cruise, and the latest contestants in American Idol. Again, we like our heroes to be flawed so that we can feel that they are, in some way, equal to or even less than we are.
Top athletes don't do this. You never hear of the athlete who is successful because his role model was the person who received the bronze medal in the Olympics. No! We all aspire to win the gold!
So why do we focus on the bronze medal winners in the human race?