Living in ahistorical times

On CNN, Miles O’Brien discusses Coretta Scott King’s funeral with Jeff Greenfield. After acknowledging the role of black churches in the civil rights movement and the Kings’ life of political struggle, Greenfield suggests that it would have been more appropriate had the political content of the funeral been more subtle. O’Brien comes back with a great line:

You sort of get the sense that these days nuance is dead. It’s coarse, isn’t it?

Nuance is dead. The language of presidents and preachers at the funeral of an icon of civil rights is coarse because memorials addressed more than just the safe topic of desegregation. Whoever believed that the civil rights movement was about being polite? What a tremendous misrepresentation of a broad movement.

One of the images that inspires my interest in social movements and civil rights comes from when I was an undergraduate, when Mario Savio died. Memorials to Savio commented on his taking off his shoes before climbing atop a police car to denounce the police and the university administration that prohibited political speech on campus. Savio combined an intentional, overt gesure of nonviolence with language that was absolutely incindiary. He was not subtle, nor was the free speech movement, nor are the causes of social justice, nonviolence, and peace that have been a component of the civil rights movement since its inception.

Opening his State of the Union speech last week, the President praised Coretta Scott King’s grace; those who now condemn the “coarse” politicization of Coretta Scott King’s funeral confuse dignity with silence.