The Legacy of Rodney King

The Legacy of Rodney King

Marc Lamont Hill remembers the 'accidental hero' who served as a symbol for American racism

Marc Lamont Hill

by Marc Lamont Hill, June 18, 2012

The Legacy of Rodney King

Rodney King Dead: Face Of LA Riots Dies At Age 47

said he believed that we’d grown as a nation. I privately thought he was offbase and politely challenged him for his optimism. How could he be so sure?  Given everything that we’d seen and done as a country, how he could he be so invested in the goodness of America? He said that like all people, he had doubts. But his faith in God and America were stronger than those doubts.

That, in a nutshell, is who Rodney King was.

Not the lawless monster portrayed by the LAPD. Not the walking punch line depicted in both Black and mainstream culture. And not the unrepentant addict who never conquered his demons. Rather, Rodney King was someone who desperately aimed to love his way through the absurdity of America’s racial condition.

Rodney King was a metaphor for Blacks in America. Despite being the victim of injustice, hatred, and random violence, he remained deeply invested in the belief (however flawed) that America could be different and better. His now legendary question, “Can we all get along?” was not an expression of political and racial naïveté. Rather, it was a courageous civic challenge. It was a passionate articulation of a democratic vision. It was a faith driven commitment to acknowledging the past but never being prisoner to it. It was a mature attempt to usher the body politic into a new sense of courage, moral clarity, forgiveness, and love.

Rodney King was not perfect. But he was a perfect symbol for our generation. For that, we give thanks.

May he rest in peace, power, and justice.

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