MLK is revered today but the real king would make white people uncomfortable | Michael Harriot

EEvery year, on the third Monday in January, America hosts a Sadie Hawkins-style role-reversal where the whole country pretends to celebrate a man whose accomplishments they’ve spent the previous 364 days ignoring, demonizing, and trying to dismantle. values. Today, your favorite vote suppressors will take a brief respite to disenfranchise black voters, deny history, and increase inequality to celebrate a true American hero.

That’s right, it’s MLK day!

You might think it’s a little disrespectful to refer to a great American hero by his initials, but in this case, that’s perfectly fine. The real Martin Luther King Jr who lived and breathed is not the man most people will honor today because that Martin Luther King is dead and gone. No, the man they will heap their performative praise on with the social media signal of virtue is MLK, a caricature of a man whose likeness has been made acceptable for white consumption. Like BLM, CRT and USA, the people King fought against have now succeeded in flattening a three-dimensional symbol into a three-letter phrase worthy of a song worthy of demonization or deification.

I do not condemn this American tradition of gaslighting. I had an imaginary friend growing up and he wasn’t as eloquent as this story – refurbished MLK they came up with. More than anyone, I can appreciate the lengths this country has gone to in crafting a version of King based on a true story. Laundering an entire human being is not as easy as you think. Also, I understand why they do it:

The real Martin Luther King would make white people uncomfortable.

Anyone familiar with the unbleached history of Martin Luther King Jr understands why explaining in white “what MLK would have wanted” is a favorite pastime of politicians and sympathetic and successful social media “allies”. The average American might have the heebie-jeebies if he knew he was celebrating a radical who challenged systemic racism, supported reparations and advocated for a universal basic income.

Although in death he became one of the most revered figures in United States history, in the entirety of the 39 years King lived and breathed there was not a single day when the majority of white Americans approved of it. In 1966, Gallup measured his approval rating at 32% positive and 63% negative. That same year, a December Harris poll found that 50 percent of whites believed King was “harming the Negro civil rights cause,” while only 36 percent believed he was helping. At the time of his death in 1968, three out of four white Americans disapproved of him. Following his assassination, 31% of the country felt that he “caused it himself”.

It is not necessary to go back to historical records to explain why King was so despised. The sentiments that made him a villain are still prevalent in America today. In his lifetime, King was a walking and telling example of everything this country despises in the quest for black liberation. He denounced police brutality. He reminded the country of its racist past. He chastised the powers that be for income inequality and systemic racism. Not only did he condemn openly racist opponents of equality, but he reminded the legions of white people who were willing to sit idly by while their countrymen were oppressed that they were oppressors too. “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it,” King said. “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is actually cooperating with it.”

To be fair, King readily admitted that his goal was to make White people feel uncomfortable. Just before condemning white moderates in A Letter from Birmingham Jail, he revealed his aim was to “create the kind of tension in society that will help men emerge from the dark depths of prejudice and racism”. He went on to explain that nonviolent direct action – King’s primary strategy for influencing progress – was an attempt to bring the white community to a point where the desperate cries of marginalized people could no longer be ignored.

Yet this new, more compassionate America is just as intolerant as Black Lives Matter protesters take to the streets to protest police brutality. Of course, if the teaching of black history were not criminalized as critical race theory, more people might know that the original intent of the marchers from Selma to Montgomery was to confront their governor at about police brutality – namely the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama state troop. People who believe the NFL should have kicked Colin Kaepernick out of football for his ‘un-American’ protests would have really hated Roberto Clemente, who convinced his teammates to protest King’s death by refusing to play on Opening Day of Major League Baseball in 1968. They were furious when Clemente told his local newspaper, “If you have to ask black players, then we don’t have a great country.”

I wonder how Tim Scott and Mitch McConnell would have felt about that. After all, they both invoked King’s name while claiming that America is not a racist country. But I’m sure MLK would never go so far as to portray their birthplace as a racist country.

“The first thing I would like to mention is that there has to be an acknowledgment by everyone in this nation that America is still a racist country,” King said days before a white supremacist shoots him in the face. “Now, as nasty as that sounds, it’s the truth. And we will never solve the problem of racism until there is recognition that racism is still central to much of our nation and we need to see racism for what it is.

See how many times someone mentions this quote today.

Oh wait… King gave this speech at Grosse Pointe High School, where Michigan’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives recently passed an anti-CRT bill making it illegal to teach that “the United States is a fundamentally racist country.

It does not matter.

That’s why, despite what people choosing quotes from the I Have a Dream speech would have you believe, King never suggested that white people should be judged “by the content of their character and not the color of their character.” their skin”. In fact, he regularly judged white people to explain the madness of white supremacy.

“In their dealings with blacks, whites found they had cast off the very center of their own ethical professions,” King wrote in 1956. “They could not face the triumph of their lower instincts and simultaneously have peace interior. And so, to get it, they rationalized – insisting that the unfortunate Negro, being less than human, deserved and even enjoyed second-class status… White men soon forgot that the social culture of the Sud and all its institutions had been organized to perpetuate this status. rationalization. They observed a caste system and were soon conditioned to believe that its social outcomes, which they had created, in fact reflected the innate and true nature of the Negro.

Even at the age of 17, King used Georgia’s largest newspaper to make the whole state uncomfortable when he reminded readers of the Atlanta Constitution, “It’s fair to remember that almost all of the racial mixing in America came, not at the initiative of black people. , but by the acts of those very white men who speak loudest of the purity of the race.

For white America, that Martin Luther King Jr. was an anti-white commie who hated America, just like today’s outspoken black people who are criticized for “playing” all the things that the White America hates: the “race map”, the “victim”, and – my favorite – “identity politics”.

But, now that King is dead and gone, leaders like Ted Cruz and Ron DeSantis will sing hosannas for MLK while demonizing Black Lives Matter and critical race theory as Marxist, un-American bait that posits American values. It’s no coincidence that Alabama Governor George Wallace described King as “perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today.” Long before “race-baiting” became a popular term, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond said King “must always have a goal of agitation lest he ever find himself on the street without a drum.” to beat or a title to win”. One of Thurmond’s first acts after leaving the Democratic Party to become a Republican was to implore the FBI to investigate King’s activities as a communist. (Years later, Thurmond voted for an MLK vacation.) Even after his death, conservative leaders sought to smear King’s legacy by erasing the prospect of a party honoring him. “Tour. King’s motives are distorted,” Ohio Senator John Ashbrook wrote at the time. “He sought not to work through the law but to circumvent it.”

And they won.

They only agreed to honor King’s legacy after enough time had passed to sufficiently whitewash the radical who shamelessly fought for freedom and justice for all. Perhaps that’s why they claim he ‘gave his life’ for civil rights – as if he agreed to take a projectile from a high-powered rifle into his temple in exchange for a statue, a church fan with his face on it, and a three-day weekend in the future.

But don’t let your heart be troubled when you hear them cover the memory of Martin Luther King Jr with bouquets of reverence. The people who continue to protect broken systems of criminal justice, education, and democracy may not necessarily hate King, but they don’t like him or anything he stood for.

It’s not even an opinion. The polling data proves it. Historical facts prove it. The pieces of blood and bone that stained the balcony of a hotel in Memphis prove it. More importantly, the fact that black Americans are still fighting the same battles against voter suppression, inequality and the right to have a dream nearly 54 years after his death is the most accurate measure of what this nation think of Martin Luther King.

This is perhaps the most uncomfortable fact of all.

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