Our October 5th


History throws up interesting coincidences that in fact produce far more interesting counterpositions.

Oct 5, 2011 provides just such an example.

Almost everyone I know will remember that as the day that Steve Jobs, showman, entrepreneur, and billionaire succumbed to a long battle with cancer. Encomia came from all quarters. Jobs, undoubtedly a remarkable and successful person, was deified, even by those who detracted from the vertical man at every turn. People I know cried. What would the future look like, they asked.

While many other people died that day, one stands out to me as remarkable in how little media coverage his death provoked.

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a stunningly courageous and charismatic leader of the Civil Rights movement died at the age of 89 on Oct 5. A person whose house had been bombed, who had been beaten severely, and jailed dozens of times, a person who Bull Connor wished had been “carried away in a hearse,” one of the leading lights of the Birmingham freedom struggle, and a person who founded, along with MLK Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, the SCLC, succumbed to health issues the same day Steve Jobs did.

And yes, there were some articles on this tragic occurrence but any basic media study would probably show that Jobs’s death received over 1,000 times the coverage. I haven’t had the courage to look at the social web as I imagine the ratio there is even more extreme.

This counterposition tells us a few things about how we as a collective think.

First, we have a tendency to glorify money and consumption. After all, Steve Jobs was clearly a genius –but at making money and making products people buy. He left no scientific, literary, or humanistic legacy. This isn’t a detraction – it’s just a statement of what he spent his prodigious energies and talents on. So, given our biases, we acknowledge the righteous encomia and hagiographical accounts that accompanied his death as “obvious,” even normative.

Second, we synonymize social movements with “Great Men” and not with the masses of people who give up life, liberty, property, safety, and mental peace for the great causes from which, in any sensible analysis, we all benefit. So, for many, Dr. King is equivalent to the Civil Rights movement. Now, this isn’t to suggest that Fred Shuttlesworth was “just another activist” but that’s not the point here. The point here is that so few of us know him, James Lawson, Diane Nash, John Lewis and so many other incredibly self-sacrificial people who fought for the rights of African-Americans (and the poor, and the underprivileged etc.)

We owe ourselves a thorough review of what we consider important. While iPads and iPhones are undoubtedly cool and disruptive, the elemental rights of scores of millions of people deserves a few more pixels doesn’t it? 

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