Letter to Martin Luther King, Jr.

A progress report.

Dear Dr. King:

I've noticed that a lot of people refer to you simply as "Martin." Michael Eric Dyson, for instance, is full of "Martin this" and "Martin that." But I don't feel entitled to call you by your first name. I never met you. I'm not black—though in fact I'm pretty sure I have some African ancestry (who doesn't?), so to a degree I am black: we all are. But for all that, it would be ridiculous for me to pretend to a chummy connection with you.

As you stroll under the larches of Paradise, you may not be keeping track of what's going on down here. Not that you would have forsaken the passion for justice that fueled the civil rights movement. But perhaps you are simply on another plane of existence, incomprehensible to those of us who are still in perishable bodies.

Nevertheless, on the off chance that this message in a digital bottle might reach you, I thought I would fill you in on some of the news. (You don't get the Times in heaven, do you?) The most important story of the moment is the attempt by the recently installed president of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, to embarrass Professor Cornel West. Summers had the nerve to suggest that it might be time for West to publish another work of serious scholarship. He also hinted that West was contributing to the rampant grade inflation at Harvard, and he seemed unenthusiastic about West's rap CD, Sketches of My Culture.

It was a clear case of racial bullying. As Ayana Karanja, director of the Black World Studies Program at Loyola University-Chicago, put it, "Who determines scholarship? Who decides what is knowledge?" Exactly! In any case, Summers had to eat a plate of crow as soon as West and some of the other stars in Harvard's Afro-American Studies program threatened ...

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Posted:
June
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