On Saturday, Right-wing television commentator Glenn Beck held a rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Beck claimed that – after having changed the date of the rally to August 28th – he had no idea his rally would fall on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, keynoted by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have Dream” speech.
Once questioned by media about the timing of the rally, Beck dismissed any concerns by claiming that his rally would “reclaim the civil rights movement.”
During a segment on his radio show, Beck reiterated that notion and added that he and his fellow conservatives were entitled to “take back” the civil rights movement because “damn it…we were the people who did it in the first place!”
Beck has never explained who took the civil rights movement and where they went with it. Nor did he acknowledge that it was America’s political, social, and Christian conservatives who rallied massive resistance – using federal, state, and local power, counter-protests mobs, and vigilante violence – against the likes of Dr. King, SNCC, the SCLC, and others.
I never heard Beck describe how he was going to honor King’s legacy when King was the type of “social justice” minister Beck rails against daily. Then it occurred to me that none of this was central to his cause; truth and accuracy have never been his forte. What is absolutely critical for Beck is the ability to name the world in any way he sees fit, whether or not the definitions match reality.
Beck’s rally – like the rest of his political theater – seemed scattershot and ill-conceived. Over the past few months, the theme of the rally changed more than the date, moving from a book launch, to an explication of his supposedly divinely-inspired “plan,” to a celebration of America’s soldiers. It’s difficult to imagine a similarly situated entertainer-of-color putting together such a confused and confusing demonstration and have the entire nation take her/him seriously. Nonetheless, what we should take seriously is the pattern highlighted by the demonstration.
Beck has made quite a name for himself with acts like his campaign against Van Jones, as well as by stating that President Obama was a racist with a “deep-seated hatred of White people.” He has demonized community organizers, unions, and social justice churches. He constantly demonstrates religious intolerance and xenophobia. The only thing he has in common with Dr. King is that each of their last names has four letters and a “k.”
The post-rally news coverage also was troubling because reporters and observers, at best, merely hinted at the glaring contradictions. The media’s response simply augmented the spectacle by focusing on Beck-the-celebrity, his guests, and the crowd, absent any analysis of what actually happened. This isn’t about how many people showed up, whether the crowd was racially diverse, or whether the rally demonstrated that we live in a divided country. It’s about White privilege and its tremendous, ongoing costs.
Don’t get me wrong; Beck is dangerous. He is the latest opportunist to package the old wine (or is it “whine”) of White fear, paranoia, and self-pity into a new bottle of “aw shucks” folksiness. His discourse is hate speech with a smile, faux sincerity, and the occasional, well-timed tear. Yet, what is most dangerous is the ability of White Privilege to define America (and the globe) with little, if any, factual support.
White Privilege is dangerous because it makes the absurd seem commonplace, the indefensible suddenly appropriate. It is dangerous because the attitudes, ideas, and actions that emerge from it appear to be “natural” and “normal” rather than the hideous social deformity that they are. In Beck’s world of privilege, “little Black boys and little Black girls” only play with “little White boys and little White girls” if they are all Communists bent on the destruction of America.
The toll of White Privilege is high and the meter continues to run. There will be lots of Glenn Becks and Sarah Palins; there always have been and neither is particularly original. Let us seize our power and call them what they are. Let us “refudiate” their naming. Humanity can no longer afford silence.