Last Sunday I watched some of the dedication ceremony for the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. I found it discouraging to see several of the speakers focus their remarks not on remembering Dr. King and his life and vision but on rehashing tired racial and class warfare tropes. Now don't get me wrong: I believe there is still racism. But I believe it is rare in this country and is something that cannot be addressed by political or governmental means. Racism is no longer an institutional phenomenon; this country has addressed it to the extent I think we legally and politically can; and I think the fact that we have elected a black President from one major party and have another black man leading the polls as a candidate for the other major party speaks volumes about how far we have come as a nation. And yet I think there are people who have so long defined themselves in terms of their minority status that they don't know how to stop doing so. It's almost as though if they acknowledge that things are getting better they will lose their purpose and identity. Furthermore, if they acknowledge that the thing they once agitated for has been achieved, their status as an injured group--and the power that comes with that status--becomes questionable.
It occurs to me that individuals sometimes do the same thing that aggrieved groups do, clinging to their injured status even when circumstances have changed to the point that they could let it go, and that they sometimes do so for the very same reason: because giving it up would mean they would not only lose some of the power associated with that status--because there often is power in weakness--but would also mean they would have to learn new ways of looking at themselves and interacting with the world, something that is hard to do when you have for so long operated within a certain framework.