Movie Review: The Big Sick

Over the course of this decade, South Asian Americans have risen to prominence in the entertainment industry. TV shows like Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project and Aziz Ansari’s Master of None along with films like Meet the Patels are just a few examples of the South Asian American experience being retold through pop culture.

The Big Sick is the latest of this trend. Directed by Micheal Showalter, The film is based on the real-life “how-we-met” story of actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, producer and comedy writer Emily Gordan. The screenplay was written by the couple, giving them an opportunity to unveil their emotional vulnerabilities and intimate secrets.

Kumail Nanjiani played himself as the film’s lead character. In the film, Kumail is a Pakistani-American uber driver who moonlights as a stand-up comedian, performing at local clubs as he awaits his big break.  He has an unexpected encounter with a heckler with whom he later initiates a relationship. Meanwhile, Kumail’s parents, Azmet, played by Anupam Kher, and Sharmeen, played by Zenobia Shroff, tirelessly arrange prospective Pakistani Muslim brides for their son, to Kumail’s disdain. To avoid an unpleasant confrontation with his parents, Kumail entertains their wishes.

An unexpected infection forces Emily into a medical induced coma. During that tumultuous time, Kumail bonds with Emily’s North Carolinan parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Throughout this series of events, Kumail learns more about himself, enabling him to  grow as a person who lives on his own terms.

The Big Sick is ultimately about a conflicted individual who reluctantly leads a double life to appease his parents while simultaneously attempting fulfilling his own ambitions. In his parents’ eyes, Kumail is a devout Muslim and, apparently, the most eligible bachelor of Chicago’s Pakistani community. However, Kumail, as an aspiring stand-up comic, is attracted towards a path not taken.

Kumail’s story is the story of countless second-generation Americans who are forced to tread the line between respecting old-world traditions and embracing new-world individualism. And similarly to most second-generation Americans, Kumail awkwardly stumbles as he tries desperately to balance both worlds.

In contrast to Kumail’s traditional Pakistan Muslim family, Emily’s folks are an all-American smorgasbord. Her father, Terry, is a mathematics professor originally from New York City (evident by Ray Romano’s distinctive Queens drawl!) while her mother, Beth, is a red-blooded southerner who comes from a family of hunters. Emily simultaneously represents tradition and modernity, north and south, urban and rural, intellectual and practical. She has the quirkiness of a manic pixie dream girl and yet she’s manages to remain grounded and sensible. Emily represents the ideal balance which Kumail is attempting to achieve. And perhaps, it could be the underlying reason why he is attracted to her.

Kumail mopes throughout the duration of the film with a self-pitying demeanor. However, everyone he encounters, whether it be Emily, Emily’s parents, and even his parents refuse to sympathise with his angst. Even Khadijah, one of his potential suitors, calls him out and implores him to “stop feeling sorry for (himself)”. Azmet later accuses his son of leading everyone on with no plans to make any commitment. Azmet points out that Kumail is “not being fair to (his) mother, fair to Khadijah or even fair to that girl (Emily)”. This portion of the film demonstrate that while the story is being retold through Kumail’s point of view, he is also capable of being self-critical, indicative of his personal growth throughout the ordeal.

The Big Sick has been accused by some critics of being formulaic. While one can easily grow weary of the unoriginal recipes with which romcoms are cooked, it is worth noting that commonly-used tropes can be utilized to appeal to our yearning for familiarity. 

The Big Sick follows the typical romcom formula: 1) Boy meets Girls 2) Boy bangs girl 3) Boy and girl gradually become romantically overwhelmed by each other 4) Boy and Girl break up 5)Boy and Girl reconcile. 

However, using that simple recipe as a framework, the filmmakers managed to sprinkle hints of various exotic ingredients to spice up the resulting dish. 

One feature I appreciate from this film is its willingness to explore the perspective of first-generation immigrants. Azmet and Sharmeem are not necessarily regressive bigots who only seek to isolate their son from modernity. Azmet is not some turban-wearing, chauvinistic Muslim sheikh who forces a burka-clad Sharmeen into submission and obedience. 

On the contrary, They’re a fun-loving couple who enjoy Urdu pop songs, sumptuous, homecooked meals and good conversation. However, as immigrants from Pakistan, they have had to sacrifice tremendously to ensure a stable life for themselves and their children. Azmet had to redo his graduate studies, taking classes with fellow students twenty years his junior, in order to secure a well-paying job for himself. While their American-born (or at least American-raised) children yearn for self-expression, immigrants prioritize security and self-preservation. 

In the chaotic, cosmopolitan melting pot of America, immigrants turn to their religion and their heritage to maintain a cohesive sense of identity. Sharmeen is willing to tolerate Kumail’s pursuit of stand-up comedy over law school. However, nothing is more important than having her son retain his Islamic faith and marry a Pakistani girl. Her world falls apart when Kumail reveals his desire to walk a different path. 

While Kumail appreciates his parents’ sacrifices, he remains baffled by his parents’ insistence on following old-world traditions, wondering “why did we move here (America) in the first place”. This is a perfectly nuanced depiction of the generational gap between immigrants and their children. 

The tension between Terry and Beth perfectly parallels the issues that led to Kumail ‘s and Emily’s breakup. Terry’s and Beth’s eventual reconciliation gives Kumail the motivation he needs to resolve his relationship with Emily. Terry and Beth represent how older generations can provide lessons to their younger counterpart just by example.

It isn’t often that romcoms emphasize the importance of maintaining relationships with one’s parents. Kumail’s bonding with Emily’s folks along with his own relationship with his parents was absolutely crucial to his self-growth. They enabled him to evolve from a two-timing manchild to a confident person who lives on his own terms. 

It was commendable of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon to unveil themselves through this beautiful movie. Nanjiani proved his acting chops as a leading character in a major film production. Hopefully, this will be his breakout role that will lead to more film deals. Zoe Kazan performed well in her role as Emily. In addition, I was delighted to see both Ray Romano and Anupam Kher in starring roles as well. 

Micheal Showalter’s direction was exceptional. The flow of the film was well-paced and he handled the themes of the story with precision and sensitivity. I’m not surprised the film earned a score of 98% on Rottom Tomatoes. 

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Fifty Years Later….

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Riots. In an earlier blogpost, I had touched on this tragic event and its overall impact on the city. I talked about how those few days scarred Detroit, reducing the once-bustling metropolis into the “no tax-base, white-flight, murder-capital of the Coleman Young administration”.

For this blogspot, I think it would be apt to delve into race relations, pertaining to  the 1967 riots. Today, Detroit boasts a population of seven hundred thousand residents, 82.7% of whom are Black. One hundred years ago, the Black population in Detroit comprised of a mere 3% of the city’s demographics. The 20th century witnessed a great migration of Blacks relocating to the northern cities to escape the cruelty and injustice of Jim Crow in the American South, where their ancestors had been enslaved decades previous. Detroit was a particularly attractive destination, as it was home to the newly-emerging automobile industry.

The prospects of job opportunities iat Henry Ford’s factories had also appealed to newly-arrived immigrants, who were undergoing intense inspections by customs officials on Ellis Island. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire had prompted pogroms against ethnic minorities in the Middle-East. Armenians, Assyrians (Chaldeans), Syrian/Lebanese Christians, the Druze, and Asia Minor Greeks all suffered from persecutions at the hands of their Turkish Muslim neighbors. They looked to America as a oasis of hope and to Detroit as a vehicle of economic mobility. From the 1910’s, these newly-arrived immigrants made Detroit their home. Some were employed in the automobile factories. Others established their own businesses such as grocery stores and delis. They quickly learned the English language, adopted American habits and assimilated into the White population while retaining their respective cultures.

Compared to their Mediterranean counterparts, Black migrants in Detroit faced more dire challenges despite being native English speakers. They quickly learned that, like many northern cities, Detroit was not the promised land envisioned by their cherished spirituals. As dark-skinned newcomers to a White-dominated city, Black Americans faced redlining and housing discrimination. They were deprived of equal pay. And they had to put up with police harassment. In fact, before the carnage during the summer of 1967, tensions between the Black and White populations had escalated into riots. The Belle Isle riot in 1943 is one of several of such events.

Black residents were relegated to a district in Detroit’s near east side, which coincidentally was known as “Black Bottom”, named for its rich bottomland soil. Although the Black residents of this district painfully endured the economic stagnation of the Great Depression, by the 1940’s, Black Bottom became a hub for Black-owned businesses and night clubs. In fact, Black Bottom produced singers like Della Reese, and athletes like Joe Lewis and Smokey Robinson.

Unfortunately, by the late 1950’s, those Black-owned businesses were forced to close, thanks to the Federal Highway Act of 1956. By the early 1960’s, most of Black Bottom was demolished by the city’s urban renewal project. The district was gentrified as a upscale residential development known as Lafayette Park. Meanwhile, most of Black Bottom’s residents were relocated to dilapidated housing projects.

The Detroit Police Department was dominated by White officers. It’s fair to say that they did not harbor progressive attitudes pertaining to racial equality. Numerous elderly Black residents have recalled how it was common for police officers to grab Black male teenagers and beat them in broad daylight. Some were even killed and their families were deprived of justice. Black parties and social gatherings were unjustifiably raided by the police. These circumstances led to the exacerbation of the hostility which Black residents harbored towards their city’s police department.

Suspicion towards law enforcement is practically a staple of the American Black experience. Police officers are trained to enforce the law or, in other words, maintained the status quo. For the majority of this nation’s history, the status quo had always been unsympathetic towards Black Americans. In the antebellum South, the police brought runaway Black slaves back to their masters. During the Jim Crow era, the police enforced racial segregation and other discriminatory acts. The police were pawns for the White establishment, infringing on the rights and dignities of Black citizens. 

Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Middlesex, vividly covers the 1967 riots through the eyes of the young protagonist, Calliope. In the midst of the riots, Calliope’s father, Milton, is found in his bar, barricaded behind the cash register and holding a revolver as violence continues to brew through the window. The front door of the bar opens and his Black neighbor, Morrison, walks in.

Surprised that Milton has remained in the area in the midst of the carnage, Morrison exclaims “You crazy! Ain’t safe for no White people down here!”. Milton counters that he is protecting his property. Morrison figures that since Milton is present, he could buy some cigarettes from the bar owner.

Flabbergasted that Morrison was willing to dodge sniper fires for a pack of cigerettes, Milton nevertheless concedes to the business transaction. As Morrison leaves the bar, Milton, irritated and petrified by the ongoing violence, shouts through the door, “What’s the matter with you people!”

Morrison sharply replies, “The matter with us is you!”

“The matter with us is you”. That single sentence summarizes the pent-up frustration American Blacks hold against the White establishment, represented by law enforcement. 

“The matter with us is you”. When those group of Black men on 12th street were celebrating the return of two local soldiers from Vietnam, they probably weren’t keen on seeing a score of White police officers interrupting their revelry. 

“The matter with us is you”. The presence of those police officers was perceived as just another example of the White establishment flexing its muscles to strike fear in the Black community. 

“The matter with us is you”. Fiery young Black men couldn’t take it anymore. They came of age listening to the impassioned speeches of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. They were emboldened by Black Power and Black Pride. They weren’t going to be passive and subservient in the shadows of the White man.

No, they were going to fight back. 

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the first brick was thrown by a 19-year-old. In fact, that teenager was the son of the party’s organizer. 

It took one brick to trigger an explosive war.

Since that fateful week, the city was never the same. The White residents no longer saw Detroit as their beloved home. The wealthy WASPs escaped to the Grosse Pointes, overlooking the Detroit River. The Greeks relocated to St. Clair Shores and Lincoln Park. Many Levantine Christians settled in Livonia. While a few Chaldeans remained in their beloved “Chaldeantown” on the northwest side of the city, most opted for Stealing Heights and Bloomfield Hills. The majority of the Irish, Italians, Poles and other former White residents poured themselves into the every town in the outskirts of the Motor City, depriving Detroit of its ethnic diversity. Southeast Michigan has since become appallingly segregated. 

In the last fifty years, tremendous strides have been made in the quest for racial equality. The Fair Housing Act has legally prevented Blacks from redlining and other forms of housing discrimination. Legislative measures have passed to ensure equal pay for all races. In additions, local governments have progressed in holding police officers accountable. Not to mention we managed to elect a Black president, despite all the racist propaganda!

However, in post-Obama America, suspicion of the police within the Black community remains as high as ever. Driving-while-Black is still an inconvenient reality. Stop-and-frisk is also a common occurrence that disproportionately affects Black Americans. In the courtroom, Black offenders are sentenced to harsh punishment compared to their White counterparts while offending police officer often get a mere slap-on-the-wrist. The American Black population  has come a long way since the brutality of transatlantic slave trade. However, implicit biases within law enforcement agencies and the judicial system continue to put them at a disadvantage in the eyes of the law. Therefore, the Black American’s fear and suspicion of the police isn’t going away anytime soon.
 

 

 

 

TV Episode Analysis: The Simpsons S7E16 “Lisa the Iconoclast”

It goes without saying that The Simpsons is a staple of American culture. The TV program has resonated with its American audience for over twenty-five years, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

The Simpsons was a major part of my childhood. Everyday, after school, I made it a ritual to indulge myself with a Simpsons episode before begrudgingly starting on my homework assignments. I still nostalgically look to those memories with fondness.

Of all the countless episodes that aired within the span of over a quarter of a century, there is one that captures my eyes, like a sapphire among diamonds (I prefer sapphires). If I had to choose a favorite episode, I’d undoubtedly pick “Lisa the Iconoclast”.

“Lisa the Iconoclast” is the sixteenth episode of The Simpson’s seventh season. The episode opened with the residents of Springfield preparing for its bicentennial celebration. The town was named after Jebediah Springfield, a brave pioneer who earned the admiration of every Springfield resident.

Simpsons_07_15_P2Being the history buff that she is, Lisa decided to write a research paper on the venerated founder. However, when she visited the local history museum, the precocious young researcher becomes blindsided by some disturbing revelations. Lisa discovered a parchment revealing that Jebediah Springfield’s real name was Hans Sprungfeld and he was a murderous pirate who shot a buffalo, rather than taking it as the local legends claim, and was involved in a fistfight.

With the aid of Homer, her imbecilic yet loyal father, Lisa had set out to debunk the myth that ingrained itself in Springfield history. However, she, expectedly, was dealt with harsh backlash. Her report detailing her new findings was graded with an “F”. She was banned from the local history museum. She was shunned by her fellow classmates. Even her mother, Marge, rebuked her for suggesting that Jebediah was anything less than a saint.

In addition, Homer’s luck had also taken a turn for the worst. His drinking buddies ostracized him, with Moe kicking him out of the bar. He and Lisa were barred from attending the bicentennial parade, tarnishing Homer’s aspiration to become the town crier in the parade.

Nevertheless, Homer was determined to stay by his daughter’s side. The father-daughter duo continued their quest to prove their case to the townspeople.

I’ll spare you the copious details. In the end, Hollis Holbert, a local history scholar and curator of the museum regretfully conceded to Lisa’s findings. He concluded, with the new revelations, that the bicentennial celebrations were nothing but a sham and that the truth about Jebediah Springfield must be exposed.

Holbert managed to halt the parade. However, after handing a microphone to Lisa, encouraging her to reveal the truth, Lisa looks to her fellow townspeople. Sensing their optimism and pride, Lisa retreats from her original mission and merely says that “Jebediah Springfield was just great”. When inquired by Holbert about her choice, Lisa affirms that the legend of Jebediah Springfield has “brought out the best in people”. In a way, the myth carried more value than the truth.

As children, we’ve been inundated with half-truths and exaggerated stories. These tall tales were meant to inspire us to become honorable and productive. We were taught to use the lives of respected historical figures like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King as examples to lead by.

I remember when I was in third grade, my class and I were taught the rhyme “Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492”. According to our teacher, Christopher Columbus courageously sailed through the tumultuous waves of the Atlantic ocean, undeterred in his quest before he became the first to stumble upon a new continent. According to our teacher, Columbus’ feat was so groundbreaking that he deserved to be credited for ‘discovering America’, complemented with his own holiday.

I later learned that the only reason we celebrated Columbus Day was due to the tireless lobbying of the Knight of Columbus, led by New York Italian businessman and community leader, Generoso Pope. I later learned that five hundred years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Vikings had landed off the coast of present-day Newfoundland. I later learned that Columbus was not the noble hero portrayed in our elementary school textbooks. In fact, he was a religious fanatic who had no qualms capturing the indigenous people of the ‘new continent’ and selling them off as slaves. In fact, one could rightfully accuse him of spearheading the transatlantic slave trade. What a saint!

But at least we get a day off 🙂

George Washington is hailed as the father of the United States. He was also a slave-owner and despite his promise, never got around to freeing his human livestock. Abraham Lincoln is credited for freeing the slaves. However, from suspending habeas corpus to approving of what could be rightfully called “the Gauntanamo Bay of the 1800’s”, he wasn’t the exemplary advocate of human rights we perceive him to be. Mohandas Gandhi was the fasting pacifist activist who relentlessly fought to break the shackles of colonialism. But in his own household, he was an abusive tyrant who beat his wife. Martin Luther King was inspired by the gospel to call for justice and equality. Yet, when it came to his own sexual urges and marital vows, he was more than willing to disregard the Good Book.

Our historical idols weren’t always very heroic. Despite their noteworthy accomplishments, some were downright terrible people.

For the people of Springfield, the unblemished image of Jebediah Springfield promoted a sense of citizenship and solidarity. Lisa came to this revelation in the last few minutes of the episode. She knew that the social cohesion of the town would disintegrate if she’d revealed the ugly truth. Therefore, she went against her own instincts.

The details of Martin Luther King’s extramarital affairs were kept concealed until Ralph Abernathy published his tell-all memoir in 1989. The alleged tapes of MLK’s affairs have been sealed until 2027 by a court order.

It would be distressing to even imagine how this country would have turned out had King’s infidelity come to light during the heyday of the activism. The progression of the Civil rights movement would have been suspended. We probably would not have elected a Black president in 2008.

I’m not necessarily supporting the promotion of falsehoods. There is,of course, value in truth. However the world is complicated and sometimes our heroes fall short of our expectations. I suppose we have to remember that a person’s moral failings does not negate his/her historical feats

How Sex Unleashed a Cultural Revolution

Kerala is renowned for being the most progressive state in the Republic of India. Despite its rather lackluster economic performance and chaotic political culture, Kerala has accomplished extraordinary feats which include achieving 100% literacy along with the highest HDI, life expectancy and sex ratio in the country. Thousands of unskilled laborers from the northern states of Bihar, Bengal and Assam flock to Kerala to take advantages of higher wages. And unlike most parts of India, communal violence is relatively rare in Kerala, where it’s not uncommon to see a Hindu temple host an Iftar! 

However, Kerala has not always been the liberal utopia we know today. In fact, before the eve of Indian independence, the region that now constitutes present-day Kerala comprised of two kingdoms in the south, Travancore and Cochin, while the northern region, known as the Malabar district, was directly governed by the British Raj through the Madras Presidency.

Within Travancore, Cochin and Malabar, a smorgasbord of ethnic and religious communities interacted, though not always peacefully. The caste system was in full effect and if you knew what was good for you, you’d remember to be mindful of your place.

In the small, coastal kingdom of Cochin, sandwiched between Travancore and the Malabar district and overlooking the Arabian Sea, there was a mesmerizingly beautiful young woman named Savitri.

Savitri, also known as Thathri, was from a village called Ezhumangadu. She was born into the Kalpakasseri Illam, a prominent Namboothiri Brahmin clan. In the Malayali caste system, the Namboothiris were considered the most pure and elite of all Brahmins. In the early 1900s, the Namboothiris commanded respect and reverence with an iron fist. The Kalpakasseri Illam was no exception.

When Savitri was born, her father was informed by an astrologer in the village that because Savitri was born in an inauspicious time, she would be destined to “bring calamity, destroying the family honor”.

Now, I don’t believe in astrology or any supernatural superstitions. However, in hindsight, the astrologer did foreshadow the dramatic events that would transpire in Savitri’s life, affecting not only her and her family, but her entire community.

Despite being barred from enrolling in school, as was the custom for Namboothiri girls during that period, Savitri was said to be incredibly intelligent, exhibiting a keen interest in literature, music and the performing arts. She was also said to be tactical and mischievous, as later events would demonstrate.

In colonial India, girls were married off at outrageously young ages. In those days, the age of consent was ten years of age (and Indians weren’t too pleased when the British authorities attempted to raise the age of consent to twelve years of age).

Savitri, in accordance with the prevailing custom, was married off, at the age of eleven, to Chemmanthatta Kuriyedathu Raman Namboothiri, a well-to-do Brahmin who was old enough to be her grandfather!

In a Namboothiri clan, only the oldest brother was afford the right to marry a Namboothiri girl. The younger brothers were supposed to invest their life in ritualistic worship and scriptural study, however, to no consequence, they often engaged in sexual relationships with Nair (warrior/royal caste) girls. Meanwhile, the oldest brother could have as many wives as he desires, to quench his sexual appetite. The wives were known as the Antharjanam, or women of the house. They were confined within the walls of their own homes, rarely going out unless accompanied.

Chemmanthatta Kuriyedathu Raman Namboothiri had a unusually unquenchable libido. Despite having multiple wives at the age of sixty, Raman unapologetically visited numerous prostitutes to get his dick wet!

One day, in the year 1905, Raman felt satisfied after one particular session with a young girl, whose face was concealed with a veil. Upon lifting the veil, Raman was shocked to find that the girl was none other than his teenage wife, Savithri!

This unforeseenable episode brewed a scandal in the entire locality. Raman accused his wife of adultery, ushering in a Smarthavichanam trial.

According to Namboothiri tradition, Smarthavichanam trial was called as a woman was accused of adultery. The trial would unofficially began with the interrogation of the accused woman’s maidservant. If the maidservant incriminates her mistress, the local community would inform the Maharajah (in this case, the Maharajah of Cochin). The Maharajah would dispatch a group of judges (or smarthans), officially beginning the trial.

The accused woman would be subjected to intense interrogation, which usually involved physical and mental torture. The woman would be isolated in a cell where she’d be forced to befriend snakes and rats. Sometimes, the smarthans would place the woman in a mat, roll it up, and throw it from a housetop!

If, after all the physical trauma, the woman maintained her innocence, the smarthans and the elders of the community would find her “not guilty” and, out of the goodness of their hearts, invite her to join them in a celebratory meal.

However, if the woman is found guilty, she would be disowned by her family and ostracized from her village. Furthermore, she would be stripped of her Brahmin privileges.

Savithri stood bravely as the defendant of the Smarthavichanam. However, she requested that if she is found guilty, her lovers should also bare the consequences that are destined for her. Savithri admitted her guilt. When she was requested to name each of her male lovers, Savithri named each of them, one by one, identifying them by certain physical “markers”.

After six months, the number of lovers had amounted to sixty-four men, including thirty Namboothiri Brahmins, ten Tamil Iyer Brahmins, eleven Ambalavasis (assistants to the Brahmin priests), and thirteen Nairs. Many of these men were prominent writers, artists, scholars and religious leaders. Even more surprisingly, two of Savithri’s lovers were brothers of the head Smarthan of the trial! These men were considered the pillars of the local community. However, thanks to this trial, their moral shortcomings and sexual deviance were exposed, and they lost all credibility with the community.

Savithri had implied that there was a sixty-fifth man. Before she named this elusive figure, Rama Varma XV, the Maharajah of Cochin, abruptly called off the trial. This unpredictable action triggered a widespread rumor that the maharajah himself was the sixty-fifth lover. One could only imagine that chaos that would have erupted following that revelation!

As expected, Savithri and her innumerable lovers were outcasted. Savithri’s father commited suicide following the conclusion of the trial. The other members of the Kalpakasseri Illam feld their village in effort to flee their family shame.

No one knows exactly what happened to Savithri after leaving her village. Some claimed she married an Eurasian railway worker and eventually settled within the interior of present-day Tamil Nadu. Others claim she assumed a totally new identity and married into a Nasrani Catholic family. Proponents of this rumor claim that the famed veteran Malayalam actress, Sheela, is the granddaughter of Savitri (which she denies). Some even claim she moved to Ponnani, converted to Islam, and assumed the name Sainu Beevi.

Although her identity and whereabouts remain elusive (although I think by now, it’s safe to assume she has passed away), Savitri’s action had a lasting impact not only on the Namboothiri community but Malayali society as a whole.

Savitri had single-handedly exposed the moral hypocrisy of her community. The men who were hailed as revered role models were revealed to be libidinous perverts masquerading the image of purity and chastity. It’s a classic “preacher-in-a-brothel” situation.

After the trial, more and more people started questioning the castist values that insisted on purity. In the 1920s, a group of young, western-educated men formed the Namboothiri Yuvajana Sangam, which aimed as promoting societal reform within the Namboothiri community. The Sangam was successful in eradicating the practice of Smarthavicharam. Eventually, other social reform movements formed, urging people to question the regressive values to which they were bound. By the 1950s, caste norms were relaxed and the feudal system was eradicated. Women in Namboothiri clans were free to venture out in the world and pursue a career of their own.

Today, women in Kerala are considered to be the most liberated in India. Intercaste relations in Kerala are seen as a model for the rest of the country, as even intercaste marriages are common. Religious superstitions are not taken seriously. Despite all its political grief, Kerala is a beacon of human progress.

It’s bizarre to believe that a teenage nymphomaniac from the 1900s could have had such a profound influence.

Then again, sex can be a potently effective weapon 🙂

Book Review: Middlesex

Although Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex was published in 2002, the story carries more relevance today, given the recent “bathroom bill” controversy and other nationwide discussions pertaining to our understanding of gender identity.

md20527819112However, this story is more than about sexual orientation and non-binary genders. Middlesex incorporates a wide range of intertwined themes that encompasses the pursuit for identity which include an immigrant’s ‘rebirth’ in a new world, the clash between traditional and modernity, the battle between old-world superstitions and reason, teenage angst, sexual discovery, the bleakness of old age, the inevitability of death, and generational gaps.

Our protagonist, Calliope Stephenides is a Detroit-born, third-generation, Greek-American. During her teenage years, she discovers an unsavory revelation about her true sexual identity. This triggers an existential crisis, setting her on a journey to conceptualize her sense of self in relation to her biology. 

Calliope’s parents, Milton and Tessie, are first-cousins. If that isn’t scandalous enough for your sensibilities, you might want to brace yourself before you read this next sentence. In addition to being a product of a first-cousin marriage, Calliope’s paternal grandparents are siblings!

Yes, you read that correctly.

Calliope’s grandparents, Eleutherios (Lefty) and Desdemona, were orphans residing in Bithynios, near Smyrna (present-day Izmir) in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) during the early 1920s. Their parents were killed in the on-going conflicts between the Greeks and the Turks so they only had each other to rely upon. Somehow, inexplicably, their intimate sibling bond mutated into carnal lust. I suppose the Westermarck Effect did not apply to them. When Lefty and Desdemona finally managed to escape the carnage in their beloved yet irredeemable homeland, they did what so many immigrants did upon arriving in America. They constructed a new identity for themselves.

In their native village, Lefty and Desdemona were brother and sister. However, in their new home in Detroit, Lefty and Desdemona became newlyweds. And other than their Americanized cousin, Soumelina, who harbored a sordid secret of her own, nobody knew otherwise.

It is heavily implied, throughout the novel, that Calliope’s unusual gender orientation is rooted in her grandparents’ decision to procreate.cara

Now, it should be pointed out that not all intersex people are the result of incestuous relationships. Many literary critics have lambasted Eugenides for implying that to be the case. However, I’m willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt. In my opinion, I think Eugenides just wanted to write a story that heavily touched on multiple taboo subjects, including incest and non-binary genders.

We are a society rooted in Abrahamic tradition. According to our holy texts, God created us as male and female. And you can’t argue with the sacred.

However, recent developments in psychology and medical science have concluded that gender is a lot more complicated than we had originally anticipated. Yes, 99% of us fall into the categories of male or female. However, that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the 1% who don’t. Those who are transgendered, or afflicted with medical conditions like Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia or 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency (like Calliope) are just as human as the rest of us. It’s regrettably disheartening to see the genuine concerns of non-binary people be dismissed as “special snowflake saltiness” due to our puritanical proclivities.

Middlesex has been rightfully branded by the Metro Times as ” the Detroit Epic Novel”. The majority of this story occurs within the backdrop of a perpetually-changing Detroit. The beginning of the novel depicts our protagonist’s grandparents arriving in, what was then, a relatively small but bustling town. Throughout the novel, we witness the up-and-coming industrial hub gradually evolve into “the arsenal of democracy” during the Second World War before despairingly devolving into the “no tax-base, white-flight, murder-capital of the Coleman Young administration”. We receive an in-depth narrative of the infamous 1967 riots, leading numerous affluent White residents to abandon their homes and businesses in Detroit and embark on an exodus towards the suburban towns of Grosse Pointe (including Grosse Pointe Park and Grosse Pointe Farms), Sterling Heights, and Livonia (aka, my hometown).

In addition, Middlesex also invests pages into covering aspects of Detroit history that are usually glossed over by the textbooks. Most Americans aren’t aware that the Black-supremacist Nation of Islam was originally founded in Detroit. Nor do they comprehend the historical context in which the Nation of Islam was established. Jeffrey Eugenides succinctly highlights the motives of this unusual organization and its overall impact on the city.

Middlesex is written as a first-person narrative, so we’re able to further empathize with Calliope through her/his inner thoughts and conflicted feelings. I think Eugendies brilliantly conceptualized Calliope’s personality. Despite being a fictional character, the narration allows us to perceive Calliope as a real-life person.

What I find most intriguing is how Calliope refers to certain people in her life. Normally, our siblings are our first best friends (as opposed to being lovers in the case of Lefty and Desdemona!). The bond between siblings is impenetrable. However, Calliope always refers to her brother as “Chapter Eleven”. It’s not an affectionate nickname that most of us would refer to our brothers or sisters. The name “Chapter Eleven” references Calliope’s brother’s fault in leading their father’s business into bankruptcy. In fact, the term “Chapter Eleven” refers to bankruptcy laws. However, some literary critics have cleverly deduced that the “nickname” also refers to the emotional bankruptcy of that sibling relationship.

In a way, the novel depicts two polarizing extremes pertaining to siblings. Desdemona and Lefty occupy one extreme where the line between familial love and sexual desire is nonexistent. Calliope and her/his brother occupy the other extreme where the two, despite having grown up in the same home, regard each other as nothing more than strangers.

I’m not surprised that Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize. I can’t imagine a novel like this not being lavishly celebrated with accolades. Jeffrey Eugenides’ prose is  vivid, witty, ironic and charming. He has the rare talent of eloquently describing a baby pissing on a priest during a baptism ceremony.

“From between my cherubic legs a stream of crystalline liquid shot into the air…propelled by a full bladder, it cleared the lip of the font and struck Father Mike right in the middle of the face!”

If you’re not planning to drive to your local library to check out this book, you’ll be missing out.

Sabhayude Prathisandhi: A Tale of Sacrilegious Scandals 

A few days ago, a priest in Kerala, India was taken into police custody after attempting to board a flight to Canada. Fr. Mathew Vadakkumchery (also known as “Robin Achen”) was the parish priest of St. Sebastian Church in Kottiyoor, a village in the northern Kerala district of Kannur. He is currently being charged with the unpardonable crime of raping, and impregnanting, a sixteen year old girl. Vadakkumchery is also being accused of bribing the girl’s family with RS 10 lakhs to discreetly keep the matter from the public eye.

Vadakkumchery will pay for his transgressions through the justice system. The evidence is overwhelmingly stacked against him. Unfortunately, Vadakkumchery is only one of numerous sexual predators attempting to hide behind the sanctuary veil.

Within the Catholic community in Kerala, the past few years have been marked with numerous tell-all memoirs written by ex-nuns and ex-priests, elaborating on the deplorably depraved sexual abuse rampant in seminaries and convents in God’s Own Country. From Sister Jesme to Fr. Shibu Kalamparambil, a myriad of idealistic priests and nuns were forced to relinquish their childhood dreams of religious life upon discovering an unholy truth. Coinciding with the scandal in Kottiyoor, another former nun named Mary Chandy has recently had her tell-all memoir published, further attesting to the widespread hedonism ubiquitous behind closed doors. rape-victim-660_120213014528_121313094906

Most of us are inclined to blame the sexual abuse cases on the Catholic Church’s rigid requirements of clerical celibacy. Although I concur that celibacy is unrealistic and antithetical to our biological needs, we’re ignoring a bigger culprit: power.

Power corrupts. How many times have we’ve heard that adage? The Church’s sociopolitical influence in Kerala exemplifies that quote. Although the Catholic community comprise of ten percent of Kerala’s population, they are hailed as one of the most affluent communities in the state. In Kerala, the most renowned educational institutions  and top-rate health care facilities are operated by the Catholic Church. Catholic clerics are hailed as the most respected residents of their vicinity, particularly in south-central Kerala. Even Catholic bishops have been known to dabble in the Kerala political sphere.

In Kerala, it’s not uncommon for low-income Catholic families to pressure one of their sons to pursue the religious life. In the seminaries, young men receive a reputable education at virtually no cost. Their families take advantage of the extensive support provided by the church, mitigating their financial burdens. Once the young men receive the privilege of the white collar, their families get to bask in honor and respectability, a refreshing change-of-pace from previous years of treading the poverty line.

In the eye of zealously devout churchgoers, the ornately robed clerics are as immaculate as the Virgin Mary. They are immuned from the various temptations that burden mere mortals like us. In other words, an achen or pathiri can do no wrong.

Power corrupts. That phrase is more than an overused platitude.

The crimes of Vadakkumchery were initially concealed by those who were determined to protect the church’s reputation. Yesterday, eight people, including five nuns, were booked for conspiring a cover-up. The fact that eight people were willing to put their own lives on the line to protect a predator priest is a testimony to their blind loyalty.

Power corrupts. That phrase is more than just some overused platitude.

The cliched response to this ungodly story is to advocate for systemic reform and blah blah blah. Even Pope Francis had made it a priority to instill accountability to prevent clerical abuse.

However, promises and resolutions can only go so far. The catalyst behind the abuse of clerical privilege is the extreme reverence shown to priests and bishops by their God-fearing parishioners, who  continually treat them like the second coming of Christ.

Of course, we were told in our catechism classes that a Catholic priest acts in persona Christi. A priest assumes the role of Jesus when we confess our sins to him. As we see a priest standing in a dignified pose as he consecrates the Holy Eucharist during mass, we forget an undeniable truth. Behind the white collar and decorated attire is a mere mortal, enslaved to the same moral failings of which we are all enslaved.

As long as churchgoers exhibit undying reverence for priests, the Church will never be cleansed of her innumerable scandals.

 

Birth of a Savior

Today, tens of thousands of devout believers will be commemorating the birth of their Savior.

And I’m not referring to Jesus Christ.

This man is arguably the most elusive figure in American history. No one knows where he was born. No one knows where or when he passed away. His legacy is glossed over by high school history textbooks. Nevertheless, in a span of few years, this man managed to drastically impact the consciousness of American Blacks and forever change the course of American racial relations.

In 1930, there wWallace_Fard_Muhammadas a mysterious, beige-complexioned man walking through the streets and alleys of Depression-era Black Bottom in Detroit, selling silk cloths to Black residents who couldn’t even afford to dream of wearing such exquisite items. He introduced himself as Wallace Fard Muhammed. Handsome and charismatic, Fard was often invited into the meager dwellings of those residents, who were enticed by his stories on the origins of those silk cloths in their “homeland”. 

Assuming the role of some type of religious preacher, Fard spoke of how his poverty-stricken hosts were descended of kings and warriors who were kidnapped from their “homeland” and stripped of their ancestral heritage. Fard implored his hosts to reconnect with their history by abandoning the religion of their former masters. 

He introduced the religious concept of Tawhid (oneness of God) and discouraged pork at their dinner tables. After adopting the dietary restrictions, those Black ghetto residents observed significant improvements in their health and concluded that there must be something to Fard’s teachings. 

During his sales runs, Fard gradually evolved from a silk salesmen to a leader of a new religious movement.

Fard branded himself as a prophet and constructed a version of Islam unrecognizable to mainstream Muslims. The theological tenets of Fard’s religion involved a mad scientist named Yakub who created White people as Devils to reek havoc and destroy humanity. Therefore, the White man is innately evil and responsible for the burdens Black people are forced to endure.

To most of us today, Fard’s teachings sound nothing more than a racist crackpot theory promulgated by a dark-skinned version of L. Ron Hubbard. However, to poor Black residents of 1930s Detroit, Fard didn’t make less sense than church sermons revolving around a man who supposedly rose from the dead after three days.

It is also worth mentioning that the early 20th century was the heyday for racially-based eugenics. Today, eugenics is solely entertained by a small number of basement-dwelling shiteaters, as race is considered to be a meaningless concept by anthropologists and “biological determinism” has been discredited by the medical community. However, in the 1930s, eugenics was espoused by renowned academic journals, taught in public schools and was influential in US immigration policy. Madison Grant’s Passing of a Great Race (which profoundly influenced Adolf Hitler’s perspective on race) was on the best-sellers list.

Given those circumstances, you can see why Fard’s followers were so keen on accepting his bizarre theology.They were  consistently bombarded with “scientific” studies denigrating them as subhuman degenerates. They were mocked with the “curse of Ham” by White Christian preachers. Accepting Fard’s teachings was their way of turning the tables and asserting respectability for themselves.

Coinciding with the independence anniversary of the United States, Fard and his followers formed the Allah Temple of Islam on July 4th, 1930. The mission of this new organization was to “teach the downtrodden and defenseless Black people a thorough Knowledge of God and of themselves, and to put them on the road to Self-Independence with a superior culture and higher civilization than they had previously experienced”.

Fard was hailed by his followers as the Mahdi, replacing Jesus as their personal savior. Fard was adamant to instill Islamic practices in his followers. He admonished the consumption of pork, which, as you would know from dining at a Soul Food restaurant, is replete in American Black cuisine. He established Muslim schools as an alternative to the public school system. He authored a book entitled Secret Rituals of a Lost-Found Nation of Islam which elaborated on his religion’s tenets. As the year went by, the Nation of Islam became more organized. Fard has even handpicked a young man named Elijah Poole as his protege in 1931. He rechristened the young man Elijah Muhammed and appointed him as his successor.

In 1932, a Detroit resident named Robert Kharraim (born Robert Harris), a member of the ATI, performed a human sacrifice to “bring himself closer to Allah”. Kharraim had cited a passage from Fard’s book Secret Rituals of a Lost-Found Nation of Islam, which stated “The believer must be stabbed through the heart.”. This caught the attention of the Detroit Police Department. Driven by anti-Muslim hysteria and racism, the police sought to charge Fard with murder.

Kharraim was later found to be insane and was committed to a psychiatric institution. Fard was forced by the police to disband the ATI and leave Detroit. Fard complied, as he would have faced legal charges, and left for Chicago on December of 1932.

Although the ATI was ostensibly disbanded, the organization actually remained in tact under a new name: The Nation of Islam.

The following month, Fard returned to Detroit. However, he was identified by the police and ordered to leave. Yet, in 1934, Fard was back in Detroit, but not for long.

Facing non-stop police harassment, Fard had Elijah Muhammed drive him to the airport. After bidding his protege adieu, Fard left to board his flight, never to be seen again.

To this day, no one knows where Fard went following his departure from Detroit. Upon leaving the organization he single-handedly built, Fard passed the mantle to Elijah Muhammed, who assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam for an eventful forty years.

Under Elijah Muhammed, the Nation of Islam garnered incredible recognition and respectability among Black Americans. The organization attracted the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali. It played an influential, though notoriously controversial, role during the Civil Right Movement.

However, certain aspects of Elijah Muhammed’s reputation caused many, including Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali, to leave the organization. To this day, there are rumors accusing Elijah Muhammed of orchestrating Malcolm X’s assassination as punishment for his departure from the Nation of Islam.

Following the death of Elijah Muhammed, his son, Warith Deen Muhammed assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam. Warith repudiated his father’s racist ideas and that bizarre tale of Yakub. Instead, he introduced Sunni Islamic practices to the organization, hoping to forge connections with mainstream Islamic group.

However, Warith’s reforms resulted a schism within the Nation of Islam. The oppositional faction was led by young firebrand named Louis Farrakhan, who aspired to reintroduce the teachings and theology of Wallace Fard Muhammed and Elijah Muhammed. Warith’s faction went on to adopt the name “American Society of Muslims” while Louis Farrakhan’s faction retained the name “Nation of Islam”.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Fard remain unsolved. Of course, numerous hypotheses have been proposed to unravel this evasive character.

In the late 1950s, the FBI conjured a theory linking Wallace Fard Muhammed to Wali Dodd Ford, a New Zealand-born White restaurant owner who lived in California during the 1910s and 1920s. This theory was propagated in newspapers as a tactic to discredit the Nation of Islam through some crazed Rachel-Dolezalesque fashion.

South Asia had been pinpointed as the possible birthplace of Fard. After all, he had the generic features of a typical North Indian: silky black hair, beige complexion, sharp, chiseled facial features, and a caucasoid bone structure. The fact that he reportedly expressed contempt for Hinduism is also indicative of his South Asian origins.

Turkey, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia have also been proposed as his possible birthplace. In fact, he had once claimed to have served as a diplomat for the Kingdom of Hejaz (located in present-day Saudi Arabia).

You’re probably wondering why a man with no African roots would go as far as to establish a Black supremacist organization!

Perhaps, Fard was seeking an opportunity to propagate Islam (well his unconventional version of Islam) while he was selling silk cloths. Seeing neighborhoods of destitute, marginalized Blacks in need of a savior, he took his chances with them. The affirming doctrines preached by a man who presented himself as a “high-yellow” Black man from the East would have been receptive to early 20th century Black Americans.

We will possibly never know the true origins of Wallace Fard Muhammed. We will possibly never know his true ethnicity or even his real name. We will never know who he truly was.

Nevertheless, we cannot deny the profound impact he had on the cultural milieu of America. Despite possibly lack a drop of African blood, Fard instilled in Black Americans a sense of self-respect that motivated them to fight for equality.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending the ideology he propagated. Nor am I a supporter of the Nation of Islam. However, in studying Fard’s ideology and the Nation of Islam in relation to the mores of early 20th-century America, we can have a more comprehensive perspective on Black American history, which will give us insight into the state of modern-day race relations.

Perpetual Student of the Kwan

Calling myself a martial artist would be a gross exaggeration. I’m certainly no match for Ip Man! However, my obsession with anime aroused my fascination with oriental martial arts techniques. I had even dreamt of achieving super-saiyan level!

…To this day, I still cherish that dream

When I was eight years old, my parents enrolled me in a karate class after hearing about my brief encounter with a bully during recess. This particular course taught a Korean varient of Karate called Tang Soo Do.

hwangkeeIn 1937, a 23-year-old Hwang Kee returned to his native Korea after two years working at the Manchurian railroads in China. During his stay in China, Hwang Kee allegedly learned Kung Fu, complementing his training in Subak during his high school years. Upon returning to Korea, Hwang Kee had hoped to continue his martial arts education. Unfortunately, his aspirations were limited by the Japanese Occupation of Korea during World War II.

The carnage of a global battle didn’t prevent Hwang Kee from pursuing his life-long passion. During the early 1940s, Hwang Kee spent the majority of the time at the library, burying himself in books and articles about Okinawan Shotokan Karate.

In 1945, Hwang Kee opened his first kwan, which he christened Hwa Soo Do (flowering gmckickhand way) Muk Do Kwan. Five years later, he renamed his school Tang Soo Do (empty hand) Muk Do Kwan to emphasize the empty-handed techniques derived from Shotokan Karate.

Unlike most martial arts, the envied black belt does not exist in Tang Soo Do. In Korean culture, the color black symbolizes perfection. However, every Tang Soo Do practitioner is fully aware that perfection is unattainable. The highest rank a student can achieve is a humble 10th degree midnight blue belt. Although not as edgy as its black counterpart, the midnight blue reminds a practitioner that he will always be a student.

This is true in every field. Whether you’re a professor, a doctor, a CEO or even the president of the United States, you will always remain a student.

I was enrolled in Tang Soo Do for only two years, before the demands of middle school assignments and extracurriculars occupied the majority of my free time. However, my years in Tang Soo Do instilled in me the importance of humbleness. If we perceive ourselves as experts, we’ll lack the incentive to pursue knowledge. If we lack that incentive, we hinder our own personal growth.

Book Review: Revival

Stephen King is renowned for his epic horror novels. Since the publication of his debut book, Carrie, King has spent the last three decades reveling in fame and literary recognition. His prose is simple and meant to appeal to a middlebrow readership. Nevertheless, King is able to write in a way that captures the imagination and invites the reader into the depths of his world.

Revival was published in 2014. Similarly to most of King’s books, the story is set in his 51vNbL-8w0L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_home state of Maine (at least during the first half of the novel). The novel chronicles the life of Jamie Morton, from age six to his late fifties, and highlights his encounters with a charming, yet eccentric preacher named Charles Daniel Jacobs.

Although the story is written from the first-person perspective of Jamie Morton, Jacobs could qualify as the lead protagonist as well. This tale is just as much about him as it is about Jamie.

Charles Daniel Jacobs is introduced as an young, enthusiastic Methodist preacher who arrives in tiny Maine town of Harrow with his wife and son for his first pastoral assignment.  In Harrow, Jacobs meets six-year-old Jamie and immediately takes a liking to him. Jacobs exposes Jamie to the bizarre, yet fascinating world of electricity, of which Jacobs exhibits an infatuated obsession.

One fateful day, Jacobs’ wife and son fall victim to a car accident. Unfortunately, they didn’t survive which tears Jacobs apart. On the following Sunday at the local Methodist church, Jacobs delivers a heart-wrenching diatribe, later termed by the parishioners and townspeople as “The Terrible Sermon”. Jacobs lashes at God and derides religion as nothing but an insurance fraud. Unsurprisingly, Jacobs leaves town. However, that wouldn’t be the last time Jamie sees him..

The novel effectistephen-kingvely touches on numerous themes that are all intertwined, including religion, tragedies, death and the esoteric potential of electricity. Although the story drags into numerous irrelevant subplots of Jamie’s life, it leads towards a bone-chilling, Lovecraftesque climax, and unveiling the mysteries of death and the afterlife.

Revival, in echoing Stephen King’s own perspective, exposes the covert manipulation of tent revivals. In one passage, Charles Jacobs cynically chides the enthusiastic attendees as “rubes” who only “want to be healed”.

I’m reminded of the numerous charismatic retreats I was dragged to as a child. Although the majority of the congregation were seemingly rejuvenated by the spirited ambiance, I was disturbed by the exaggerated displays of emotion and the complete surrender to blind faith.

A priest (or lay minister) would spew a series of half-baked Christian platitudes, ending every two sentences with “Praise the Lord”, and the congregation would cling to his every word. Yet numerous of my fellow parishioners flocked to these retreats, even if they regularly fail to attend Sunday mass. As Charles Jacobs said, people just want to be healed. And with life’s innumerable burdens and calamities, who could blame them?

This is where the esoteric secrets of electricity come in. As a young preacher, Jacobs devoted himself to studying electricity as a hobby and often used it as a teaching tool for the church youth group.

When Jamie’s brother, Connie, lost his voice, Jacobs riskfully harnessed the powers of electricity to heal Connie of his affliction. That was the first time Jacobs utilize electricity behind its typical application of lighting a bulb.

After the terrible sermon, Jacobs was driven into obsession over electricity. He would discover that the healing potential of electricity could ignite a new type of “revival”. However, in his old age, there was one mission that was left to be accomplished. And he would need the assistance of a fifty-something year old Jamie Morton.

Despite the handful of irrelevant subplot, this novel is worth reading. If you’re a lapsed Christian, this story will make you reflect on your own religious upbringing and give you further insight on the inner-workings of religion

“In Our Own Image”

Death is ironic. Through death, one can emerge as an immortal being, transcending the his/her human nature. Although he was never adorned with the title “Mahatma”, since his assassination, Martin Luther King has been elevated to the status of a demigod in the minds of the American populace. King’s legacy is so polished and immaculate that it would be social suicide for anyone to criticize him. 

Therefore, in order to lend credibility to their often ill-conceived ideologies, politicians and media pundits alike are inclined to project their ideas onto the persona of Martin Luther King. After all, if Martin Luther King himself supported their perspective on a certain sociopolitical issue, they’re instantly immuned from critique. 

Conservative pundits continuously claim that Martin Luther King was a Republican who staunchly opposed the insidiously subtle racism of the Democratic Party. If Martin Luther King was alive today, he would be appalled by the antics of the Black Lives Matter movement. If Martin Luther King was among us, he would bluntly admonish Barack Obama for his supposedly Marxist leanings. If Martin Luther King was still living, he would chide those shamelessly slothful welfare queens living off the teat of the government. Since his untimely passing, Martin Luther King has been resurrected as the token Black mascot for the American Right Wing.

When the leaders of historically-influential populist movements pass away,  we have this inexplicable proclivity to hoist a halo upon their legacies and present them as demigods in our national folklore. Similarly for gods, Saints, and biblical heroes, we carve statues of them in line with an image to our liking. For example, the medieval European Christians saw Jesus Christ as one of their own. So they painted him as a sexy White-skinned adonis. 

Martin Luther King was not the conservative folk hero heralded by Fox News. Nor was he the whitewashed character whom we read about in elementary school. It’s time we remove our rosy-tinted goggles and acquaint   ourselves with the real Martin Luther King. 

Martin Luther King was born to a Baptist pastor named Micheal King and his wife, Alberta. The child was named after his father, Micheal. Five years later, after attending the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Conference in Berlin, the reverend  decided to change both his and his son’s names to Martin Luther in honor of the Protestant Reformer. 

Martin Luther King was a precocious child. He skipped two grades on account of his high intelligence. At age 13, He became the youngest assistant manager of a newspaper delivery station. During his junior year of high school, he won an oratory contest which foreshadowed his future career. In addition, he went straight to Morehouse College after his junior year. 

Although he had profound doubts concerning the Christian doctrine during his adolescence, Martin Luther King, electrified by his faith, enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary to fulfill his pastoral ambitions. He was deeply influenced by the Social Gospel movement, which proposed applying Christian principles towards alleviating social problems including poverty, crime, alcoholism, inadequate labor conditions and racial tensions. Although taboo during 1940s, King was involved in a relationship with a German immigrant who worked as a cook for the college cafeteria. Unfortunately due to pressure by his friends and parents, King was forced to call off the relationship.

King had to settle for a Black woman named Coretta Scott, whom he met through a mutual friend. King would find himself at odds with most feminists today. During the Civil Rights struggle, King expected his wife to stay out of the public eye, expecting her to be a stay-at-home mother to their four children. 

Martin Luther King received his doctoral degree in 1955 from Boston University with his dissertation entitled The Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillach and Henry Nelson Wieman. Although he is universally praised for his impressive educational credentials, in 1991, it was revealed that portions of King’s dissertation was plagiarized. Although the academic inquiry at Boston University didn’t revoke King’s doctorate, stressing that the dissertation still made “an intelligent and original contribution to scholarship”, the inquiry concluded that numerous passages were included without appropriate citation of sources. Obviously, this unsavory truth of King’s academic career does not negate his leadership in the Civil Rights Struggle. But we need to understand that King was, at the end of the day, a human being burdened with his own flaws. 

The Montgomery Bus Boycott launched Martin Luther King into the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1955, a young woman was arrested for refusing to sit at the back of the bus in compliance with Jim Crow regulations in Montgomery, Alabama. Her name was Claudette Colvin. She was a fifteen year old local schoolgirl. Meanwhile, the local chapter of the NAACP was waiting for an opportunity to launch a public protest in respond to the racially-discriminatory policies in the American South. Colvin’s case presented the perfect opportunity. Unfortunately, Claudette Colvin was a unmarried, pregnant teenager so it was imprudent to use her as the public face for a protest demonstration. 

A few months later, the NAACP decided to ochrastrate a confrontation, similar to Colvin’s. Rosa Parks, secretary of the local NAACP chapter sat in one of the front seats of a bus. When she refused to comply with orders to move to the back, Parks was immediately arrested. A public protest ensued for third hundred and eighty days, which was later christened “The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955”. 

Throughout the protest demonstration, Martin Luther King, as a dynamic speaker with an erudite mind, emerged as the muscles and brains of the movement. He gained nationwide fame, launching him as the public face of Civil Rights. 

A year after the Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the collaboration of Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery and Baynard Ruskin. The SCLC harnessed the organizational abilities and cultural influence of Black churches to conduct protests for civil rights reform. 

Baynard Ruskin is a long-forgotten figure in the Civil Rights Struggle. He was a veteran activist for Civil Rights, long before Martin Luther King came into the scene. He organized the first March on Washington with A.Philip Randolph in 1941 to demand equal employment opportunities for Blacks. He immersed himself in the anti-colonial struggles in Africa and Southern Asia. He led a protest demonstration against the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. And he was involved in the first Freedom Ride to challenge the Jim Crow regulations of the American South. 

Despite Ruskin’s open homosexuality Martin Luther King accepted him as a close aide and was influenced by his nonviolent strategies, which Ruskin, in turn, learned from his involvement in the Quit India Movement. However, due to pressure from other activists, Martin Luther King was forced to distance himself from Baynard Ruskin. 

Contrary to claims made by certain political pundits, King thought it was more prudent not to endorse a political party. In fact, he reasoned that a position of non-alignment would enable him to look at both major political parties with objectivity. King was equally scathing of both the Democratic and Republican Party on their poor civil rights record and disregard for the plight of Black Americans. 

Martin Luther King was a ardent proponent of Democratic Socialism. In fact, if he was alive today, King would have found himself to the left of Bernie Sanders on the political spectrum. King stated that capitalism had failed to provide the basic nescessities for working class people, particularly Blacks. However he was reluctant to be outspoken about his economic views due to the sheer anti-communist sentiments during the Cold War era. 

One viewpoint of King’s that would have ostracized him from the current political arena was his advocacy for reparations. King stated that Blacks should be compensated by the federal government for historical atrocities. In fact, he proposed a compensatory passage of $50 billion over ten years! 

In addition, King’s views on Planned Parenthood would have isolated him from conservative Christian circles. In 1966, he was awarded the Margerat Sanger Award and during his acceptance speech, he lauded the work of Planned Parenthood saying “Family Planning, to relate population to world resources, is practical and necessary”. 

In school, we never learn about King’s socioeconomic views. If we did, we would have quickly realized that Martin Luther King would not be accepted in today’s political arena. He would have been lambasted as a “Radical Marxist”, “a Reparation-seeking Opportunist”, an “Abortionist” etc. etc. So instead, we’re presented a sanitized version of Martin Luther King, palatable to our conservative sensibilities. 

As a representative of the SCLC, Martin Luther King was one of the “Big Six” instrumental in the March on Washington in 1963, along with Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the Young Urban League, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters(who also led the 1941 March), John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commitee and James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality. 

Martin Luther King delivered his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech (which he also delivered in Detroit six months previous). The positive reception of that speech echoed across the nation, leading to the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Tt

After the March on Washington, King continued his fiery activism. In 1966, he and Ralph Abernathy moved into the slums of Chicago’s South Side to express solidarity with the economically marginalized. King and Abernathy relentlessly fought against redlining and other discriminatory housing practices. This led to the 1968 Fair Housing Act

It’s no secret that King was vehemently opposed to American involvement in Vietnam. However, he was also critical of certain elements within the Anti-War movement, most notably, the hippies. 

In April of 1968, King had joined Black sanitary workers in Memphis in their protest rally. He delivered his “I’ve been on the mountaintop” at the rally. The following day, on the eighth of April, King was murdered by James Earl Ray. 

Martin Luther King left behind a wife and four children. Despite his laudable public image, King was not the ideal family man. Ralph Abernathy revealed in his autobiography that King had a “weakness for women”. His womanizing reputation was somewhat well-known, even among his enemies including J. Edger Hoover. Lyndon B Johnson often accused King of being a “hypocritical preacher” in light of those accusations. In fact, it is rumored that on the night before his assassination, King was having an affair in his hotel room!

It’s a classic preacher-in-a-brothel situation. We’ve all heard news stories of holier-than-thou clergymen getting their freak on with some loose broad. Many of them were even forced to remove the collar. However, I’m sure none of us would imagine one of our national heroes being in the same company as Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker! 

Nevertheless, King’s moral failings in his personal life does not tarnish his public legacy. The only people burdened by King’s infidelity are his wife and children. In other words, it’s a personal family matter and we don’t have the right to judge. 

This is the real story of Martin Luther King, the man. He was an ordinary man with an extraordinary legacy. But he was a man nevertheless. We should acknowledge that if we truly want to pay him homage.