Irvine and the Price of Diminishment

The City of Irvine might proclaim April 23rd, Turkish Heritage Day. Why that a bad idea joins a long list of some trying to diminish the legacy of others.

The City of Irvine is taking concrete steps to diminish some of the citizens of Los Angeles. It’s quite ugly, very racist, and unfortunately a repeat of recent history.

How? Let’s go to the videotape.

You may not know it, but the fight to get Martin Luther King Jr. Day made into an actual Federal Holiday was just that…a fight. A hell of a fight in fact:

Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East (both North Carolina Republicans) led opposition to the holiday and questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honor. Helms criticized King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing “action-oriented Marxism”. Helms led a filibuster against the bill and on October 3, 1983, submitted a 300-page document to the Senate alleging that King had associations with communists. New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan declared the document a “packet of filth”, threw it on the Senate floor and stomped on it.

President Ronald Reagan originally opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns. When asked to comment on Helms’ accusations that King was a communist, the president said “We’ll know in thirty-five years, won’t we?”, in reference to the eventual release of FBI surveillance tapes that had previously been sealed. But on November 2, 1983, Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall of Indiana, to create a federal holiday honoring King. The bill had passed the House of Representatives by a count of 338 to 90, a veto-proof margin. The holiday was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986.

The reaction, believe it or not, was not one of collective warmth and pride:

[N]ot every U.S. state chose to observe the holiday at the state level until 1991, when the New Hampshire legislature created “Civil Rights Day” and abolished “Fast Day”. In 2000, Utah became the last state to have a holiday named after King when “Human Rights Day” was officially changed to “Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

In 1986, Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, created a paid state MLK holiday in Arizona by executive order just before he left office, but in 1987, his Republican successor Evan Mecham, citing an attorney general’s opinion that Babbitt’s order was illegal, reversed Babbitt’s decision days after taking office.[14] Later that year, Mecham proclaimed the third Sunday in January to be “Martin Luther King Jr./Civil Rights Day” in Arizona, albeit as an unpaid holiday.

That’s not all.

In Alabama it’s celebrated as “Robert E. Lee/Martin Luther King Birthday”.

In Arkansas it’s “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee’s Birthdays”.

In Idaho it’s “Martin Luther King Jr.–Idaho Human Rights Day”.

In Mississippi it’s “Martin Luther King’s and Robert E. Lee’s Birthdays”.

In New Hampshire it’s “Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Day”.

In Virginia it’s it was known as Lee–Jackson–King Day, combining King’s birthday with the established Lee–Jackson Day.

What these States have done is diminish Dr. King’s legacy, his accomplishments, his day.

What do I mean? Look at the names. Is Dr. King allowed to stand alone, have his own day? No, he is not. He has to be paired with Robert E. Lee (the Confederate General of the Army of Northern Virginia), or with another celebration in those states. Even with pairing Dr. King’s day with the relatively benign sounding “Civil Rights Day” is still an insult, because the core of the activity is to make sure that Dr. King does not get his day. He is not allowed to stand alone. He celebration must be paired with something else to make it more…palatable.

Palatable.

What…about Dr. King…needs to be made palatable?

Why should we even worry about people need to be satisfied in such a way?

The point was never to make Dr. King “palatable”. It’s was to remember him, It was to honor Dr. King, his accomplishments, his legacy for all Americans. You either want to do that, or you don’t. And it’s quite clear from the decisions made by Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Virginia that they don’t. They just don’t.

So what then is the City of Irvine’s excuse?

Irvine City Hall.

The City of Irvine is not located in the American South. It doesn’t have the same history of racism or division as those states do. But what they are doing is just as bad, just as diminishing as what the former Confederate States did with Dr. King.

They are doing…this:

Are you kidding me, Irvine (and it’s Mayor, Donald P. Wagner)??

Turkish Heritage and Children’s Day?

“What’s wrong with that?”, you might ask.

Look at the date.

It’s being proclaimed for April 23rd, 2017.

April 23rd, as in the day before International Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide. It’s also the actual day when Israel commemorates the Holocaust.

That date was not chosen by accident.

Look, as a Non-Armenian, I have been amazed by the amount of Anti-Armenian resentment, discrimination and outright, racism that there is out there.

Some of it…too much of it, actually…sounds real damn familiar.

It sounds exactly like the kind of soft, low key racism suffered by my people in the late 80s, early 90s as the Black Middle class rose to financial and political power.

Historically speaking, April 24th is the day that has been chosen to commemorate the Genocide. Armenians were being killed in Turkey well before, well after that date. The actual day of the 24th in 1915 was a day when 800 Armenian leaders, writers and intellectuals were executed. The scale of the tragedy is such that…no one day can do it justice, but one day had to be chosen. April 24th is it.

Can the backers of Turkish Heritage and Children’s Day, make the same claim? Probably not.

2016 was my first time at Commemoration. It was a very emotional and powerful experience for me. I will be an emotional experience for me again, when I go later this month, and like I said: I’m not Armenian. I can only imagine how my Armenian friends, neighbors and extended family feel, and they live with this every…day. The lens of the Armenian-American experience in this country is forever tinted by their experience with the diaspora, just as my experience and my family’s experience was shaped by Slavery, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement.

Do Turkish-Americans deserve their day in the sun? Do they deserve recognition for their accomplishments and legacy in the United States? Of course they do. I’m not about to make an argument for their diminishment.

But I am going to ask why some of them want to diminish my Armenian friends and neighbors.

Lord knows, Armenian Genocidal denial is not something all Turkish-Americans are down with, but the ones who are seem to take a special pride in making sure Armenians never forget where they sit in their eyes. It’s a bit too much like the Klan or White Supremacist organizations for my taste, and the tactics are just about the same. A constant drumbeat, a reminder that in their eyes, you are nothing, you do not count. They seem to stop just short of saying they are not human, but the implication is there.

Imagine my surprise, walking down Wilshire Blvd., looking over to my left, and seeing a small group of 50 or so Turkish counter protestors (yes, Counter protestors at a Armenian Genocide Commemoration). Where they actually “pro” Genocide?

Well…kinda.

Basically, their argument seemed to be that the Armenians somehow did it to themselves, that they only had themselves to blame for their own near extinction. It’s a bit like White Supremacists saying (to this day) that the best thing that ever happened to my people was Slavery. That the institution of human theft civilized my people.

This ridiculousness was circling over our heads most of the day.

Of course, if it was just the few protesters, it would have been one thing, but the plane circling overhead, demanding to “Stop Armenian Lies!”…to the Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren of Genocide survivors. That didn’t set well with me either.

The fact that Genocide Deniers want to diminish this very sacred occasion does not surprise me.

The fact that the Irvine is helping them does.

The Survivors of Genocide deserve to have their day, just as Turkish Americans do. Their day deserves to stand alone and be shown the respect it deserves. Putting a Turkish Heritage Day the day before Commemoration does not do that. It does the opposite.

My hope is that the City of Irvine gives Turkish Heritage and Children’s Day their own day in the sun…but on a day when it can stand on it’s own, not when it’s meant to take away from their neighbors.