Sunday, June 17, 2012

Living up to others' expectations

Today Rodney King passed away.  He was found dead in his swimming pool in southern California.  He was 47 years old.  For those of you who may not know, Rodney King was the catalyst (I think that's probably an accurate way of putting it) for one of the most massive and cataclysmic race riots/insurrections in recent memory.  In fact this past April marked the 20th anniversary of the LA Riots/Insurrection (click here for more information about this event--also Mike Davis has an excellent essay about why the April 1992 event should be referred to as an uprising or insurrection vs. riot--I can't find it on-line but here's a piece by him in the LA Review of Books that's worth looking at).

In the New York Times article about his passing, King is quoted as saying:
“People look at me like I should have been like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks,” he told The Los Angeles Times in April. “I should have seen life like that and stay out of trouble, and don’t do this and don’t do that. But it’s hard to live up to some people’s expectations.”
It's hard to live up to the expectations that others have of us.  Especially, in King's case, when he found himself catapulted into a national and international spotlight.  Especially when we want people to be role models and to take on the causes for important social justice movements or to become the spokesperson who will speak truth to justice and do the right thing.

But Rodney King was human.  Which meant he made mistakes.  He was flawed.  He didn't live his life perfectly (how many of us do?).  And yet from this quote, it seems as if others, perhaps including King himself, thought he should have been something more than he was.  And trying to live up to the expectations of others is probably one of the hardest things that any of us could ever encounter.  And if you're Rodney King, imagine how much harder those expectations would rest on your shoulder.

Rodney King's name will forever be linked to the LA Riots/Uprisings.  And his name will forever be associated with the worst of police brutality.  But I also hope he will be remembered as someone who also inspired people to want a different vision of racial justice and who also, in the heat of violence, pleaded with people by somewhat helplessly asking, "Can't we all just get along?"

Can't we all just get along.

It seems like such a simple request.  But just like expectations, it can be hard to live up to.

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