City Desk

Critiquing the Critiques: MLK Edition

MLK Memorial: Critiquing the Critiques

The Washington Post editorial board is now weighing in on the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial quotation fiasco. Due to the dedication delay provided by Hurricane Irene, the board says there's time to "get it right" and replace the cocky quote with the longer, contextual version.

This has not been a good week for the new memorial. The criticism has ranged from the nitpicky to the serious. Let's see how they stack up:

  • The quote is bad. Though Washington City Paper's Rend Smith is totally correct when he points out that King wasn't exactly lacking in confidence, the "drum major" quote is obscure at best, and misleading at worst. Though "I have a dream" may be a bit trite, there's got to be something better out there. Critique: A+
  • The Chinese sculptor is bad. Complaints about Chinese artist Lei Yixin have ranged from "the sculptor should have been black" to "this isn't another statue of Chairman Mao." The Economist's Will Wilkinson called Yixin a "political bullshit artist," and Postie Courtland Milloy compared the finished product to Star Wars' Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Sure, the statue is kind of ugly, and the symbolism of having a black artist produce the sculpture would have been nice. But there's no proof a black artist would have done a better job, and anyway, when did bad art become a crime? Critique: C-
  • The workers were exploited. It's pretty repugnant that a monument built to a man who died as he fought for workers' rights was built by workers who may have been exploited. While the Chinese workers brought over to construct the monument were given room and board, they had no idea what they'd be paid for the backbreaking work when they got home. Critique: A
  • The Chinese granite is bad. Quips about the memorial being "made in China" have been floating for a while now. But complaints about using Chinese granite are turning out to be silly. The rock is harder (and more durable) than American granite. Critique: F
  • King was bad. Okay, so the Washington Times doesn't go that far, but a fact-free editorial complains that because MLK supported social safety net programs to rectify the real economic ills caused by racism, the resulting "nanny state has crippled the black community, undermining self-reliance, entrepreneurship and personal responsibility." Critique: Oh, come on.

Photo by Marion S. Trikosko, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Clint Button

    Simplifying the protests is the same as the distillation of quotes and thus misrepresentation of Dr King's intent. The truth exists in the entire facts and nothing less. The most viable complaints requesting use of USA granite have to do with real knowledge of the materials, longevity concerns of installation and workforce capacity.

    The granite industry levied similar warranty concerns about the Viet Nam Wall because that stone (not technically granite) was chosen primarily based upon color. Sounds like MLK Foundation primary defense of their chosen stone. Initially those in charge didn't understand that specific stone is very brittle. Sounds like "The rock is harder (and more durable)", doesn't it?

    The Viet Nam Wall's brittle stone is prone to small cracks that only grow larger over time. Instead of using readily-sourced similar USA stone without those tendencies, there is now enough of that foreign stone being warehoused to replace the entire Wall five times, being paid for by us. That's a big waste to support an easily avoided poor choice.

    Now imagine some problem with MLK Statue (maybe, say, earthquake damage?) and then maybe problems with China providing more of that pink granite or repairs? What is the solution? And who will carve or install those pieces? If USA parties can or have to, why couldn't they do it all in the first place. If USA granite & labor was used, these issues would be greatly mitigated.

    Before contracting with China sources for stone or sculpture, MLK Foundation visited the major VT granite quarrier in May 2006 and were told providing VT Gray granite, even if a single 200+ton piece for statue, was no problem. The industry sculpture studio they visited minutes before told them carving statue here was also no problem. But MLK Foundation officials walked out to never let either bid. They only wanted a specific color for their statue, regardless of consequences.

    In Jan 2008, that VT quarrier was forced to permanently lay off 1/3 of quarry workers in VT because of a 1 yr surplus inventory already quarried and growing foreign competition. Qualified USA Granite sculptors- who happen to not be black- were misrepresented by default by MLK Foundation as inferior to foreign sources, apparently even to the Chinese company to which Lei Yixin subcontracted the statue carving.

    Sounds like American workers paying a severe price via deliberate exclusion from projects like the MLK Memorial. Getting equally screwed just like the un- or underpaid Chinese laborers is little consolation.

    Does this more complete version of facts help change "Granite is bad/Critique: F" grade to something more in line with both "Workers were exploited/Critique: A" and "Quote is Bad/Critique: A"?

  • Winfrey Young

    The reporter completely misses the point of complaints about the granite coming from China. She writes: "Quips about the memorial being "made in China" have been floating for a while now. But complaints about using Chinese granite are turning out to be silly." It's not about the quality of the stone, Silly. It's about the fact that outsourcing has destroyed the US economy. Granite quarries in the US have laid off so many workers that the quarries are near ghost towns, and the fact that the granite came from China to be used for a monument to THIS particular man makes the idea repugnant. That's the point. You need to regrade that one....