Monday, 11 June 2012

What Would Bobby Kennedy Say?

by William Wallace 

Tuesday marked the forty-fourth anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. The Senator from New York, nicknamed “Bobby”, was shot several times at point-blank range by Sirhan Sirhan on June 5, 1968. We‘re all familiar with his older brother, John F. Kennedy: the young President credited with pursuing the first steps toward anti-segregation legislation in the United States, yet even today there is inequality in the world. As freedom-loving citizens of the Western world, one ought to ask ‘what would Bobby say if he saw our society now?’

In 1961, Bobby was controversially appointed to the esteemed position of Attorney General (the American equivalent of our Justice Secretary) under his brother’s administration. The controversy was largely due to his seeming inexperience in the judicial system, as well as the perceived nepotism of his appointment. During his tenure, he directed a hard-fought effort against the organised crime and mafia that existed in the country – but in addition to this, he was fundamental to ensuring that black students were enrolled at the Universities of Mississippi and Alabama. In fact it was he who dealt personally with the Governors of Mississippi and Alabama to ensure this. During an interview in 1962, Bobby was asked which issue he saw as being the greatest problem in the country, to which he replied “civil rights”. Even after leaving government in 1964, Kennedy remained a strong voice that pressed for greater equality. Of course, racial discrimination has been illegalised and is certainly not a problem in the US or the UK. However there has been another matter of inequality in recent years, specifically that of marriage equality. In this country, the government plans to legalise same-sex marriage in 2015 – and across the pond, President Obama has recently voiced his own support.

So what would Bobby say about our Western society? His younger brother, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, supported same-sex marriage and successfully campaigned for its legalisation in his state of Massachusetts. His son, Robert Jr. and his niece, John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline have also been vigorous campaigners in favour of this issue. Despite being raised by a devoutly Catholic mother, I wouldn’t be too surprised to find that Bobby’s passion for civil rights would still be evident today. I’m pretty certain that if he were alive now, he would add his name to the growing list of figures supporting same-sex marriage. He might even be surprised to see that there are still strains of inequality in our society (but he may not be surprised to find that this mostly emanates from the Republicans) That said, we can take some comfort that, above everything else, Robert F. Kennedy would most definitely feel proud to see our values become more tolerant, compassionate and progressive.

So as we mark the forty-fourth anniversary of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, we must remember how civil rights should never be taken for granted and that there is still a road ahead to achieving the equality that should be expected of our society.


  1. "Of course, racial discrimination ... is certainly not a problem in the US"

    I'd imagine a lot of people may disagree with you on that point.

    1. I'd imagine they would, especially given the murder of Trayvon Martin in February '12 - but essentially, the US doesn't discriminate. Equal working and living rights etc. Perhaps there are still racist individuals in the US; I've heard stories of police arresting black Americans for no reason, simply racially motivated. But the law of the land grants equal rights to them, unlike same-sex couples who cannot get married in most states.


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