Post-MLK Day Reminder: The Good Rev. Dr. Would Be Pissing People Off

There’s some stuff the status-quo folks don’t like you to know about Martin Luther King Jr. I surely didn’t get taught anything about his anti-war stance, or his arguments against capitalism, or even the stuff he said about civil rights that Regan Republican conservative white people such as my parents didn’t want to acknowledge. My school, although located in a liberal college town, was a product of the Arizona state conservatism. I got a sanitized MLK, a black dude that racist-but-didn’t-want-to-admit-it people felt good about supporting, because damn, didn’t that mean they were enlightened and shit? They’re totally behind civil rights, yo. Just, y’know, not for affirmative action and dismantling the entire system of white supremacy. Let’s don’t go too far here. Be moderate, like Dr. King! And don’t you dare support affirmative action, cuz Dr. King said we were supposed to be judging character, not skin!

He’s the lullaby the status-quo folks use to try to sing us back to sleep. And they can get away with it only because he was killed for being far too revolutionary.

So yesterday, I’m sure there were plenty of people appropriating his dream to make themselves feel all good about themselves, and convince themselves that black people these days would be scolded by the Great Man, and all that usual shit. But I went out and collected the articles that prove their version of Dr. King is a lie. And now, we’re going to have a Day-After-MLK-Day in which we enjoy the fact that if we could bring him here in the TARDIS, he’d be more likely to roll up his sleeves and get to work with the Black Lives Matter folks than he would go on talk shows claiming that #AllLivesMatter.

Let’s hear it in his own words, then, shall we?

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

Right. Well. We still have a massive police brutality problem, so Dr. King would certainly not be satisfied. The work isn’t finished. We’ve got a hell of a mess to clean up, which is one major reason why some of you Bay Area folk were inconvenienced on MLK Day. Sorry-not-sorry.

And that wasn’t all Dr. King was trying to accomplish:

Dr. King did not just vaguely fight against the idea of poverty, he fought for equal pay, he fought for better work conditions in cities across America, he fought to protect workers who were regularly abused by corporations.

He did not just vaguely fight for peace in the world; he stood up and spoke out against the Vietnam War when it was still tremendously unpopular for a man of his stature to do so. He did not, in fact, fight for integration, as much as he fought against segregation.

I was taught that MLK was a mild-mannered, sweet, compassionate, reasonable man who asked for civil rights very nicely, and that really didn’t do him any justice at all:

Dr. King wasn’t some meek little moderate who only occasionally raised his voice so that it would be politely below the level of black male noise considered palatable by the white people of his time. In his time, he was considered brash, radical, and angry. His activism didn’t begin and end with his I Had a Dream speech. Our collective memory of his activism ought to do the same so as to accurately reflect his legacy as well as more honestly view today’s activists. The person berated for being a dangerous radical today might be tomorrow’s whitewashed hero used in arguments online and off to tell oppressed people to stop making privileged people sad.

I was taught that riots are disruptive and dangerous and bad. No one wanted to talk about what riots actually were, or what MLK said about them:

Image is a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. looking contemplative. Caption says, "A riot is the language of the unheard."

If you’re still doubting that Dr. King would’ve been a total Social Justice Warrior, well, you should go read through this list of quotes and disabuse yourself of that notion. He wasn’t out to tweak a few things and make slight adjustments to systems of oppression. He was out to overhaul or overthrow them. Funny. My teachers never taught me he was after more than an end to segregated drinking fountains.

Odd they never told me about his later actitivies:

The last few years of King’s life, by contrast, are generally overlooked. When he was assassinated in 1968, King was in the midst of waging a radical campaign against economic inequality and poverty, while protesting vigorously against the Vietnam War.

Oh, my, who thought democratic socialism was a good idea? MLK, that’s who! But you’d never know it if you only listened to the people whitewashing (and moneywashing) his legacy.

I know a lot of people who would about shit themselves if school kids were taught not only that Dr. King wanted people judged by the content of their character, but that he also said:

And so every black person in this country must rise up and say I’m somebody; I have a rich proud and noble history, however painful and exploited it has been. I am black, but I am black and beautiful.

He wasn’t that colorblind, my fellow white people. Sorry-not-sorry.

If you’ve read through this post and its associated links, you may understand why this gif illustrates exactly what I believe an appropriate response is to anyone who wants to claim Dr. King’s legacy for the current status quo, or tries to use it to shut down movements like Black Lives Matter.

Gif shows a white man and white woman sitting in easy chairs on a stage. The white man is saying, "I think if Martin Luther King was alive today he would..." At this moment, a metal chair comes flying from out of the frame and knocks him and his chair backward. A black woman comes running after it and starts punching him. A television error screen saying PLEASE STAND BY pops up and ends the scene.

The other one:

ha ha no

Let’s not pretend MLK’s work here is finished. It’s up to us to carry on. Roll up your sleeves and get to work ending war, poverty, and oppression.

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Post-MLK Day Reminder: The Good Rev. Dr. Would Be Pissing People Off
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9 thoughts on “Post-MLK Day Reminder: The Good Rev. Dr. Would Be Pissing People Off

  1. AMM
    1

    Yes, the modern mainstream (=white) depiction of MLKjr. always bugs me. Like he was someone who didn’t believe in making people uncomfortable. (Well, may the bad people, but not good folks like us — where “us” = white.)

    Back when he was still alive, the mainstream view of him was that he was dangerous. That Teh Negroes had always been happy with their lot until MLK came along to stir them up. Because any posture on the part of a black person (especially black male person) other than grovelling subservience was seen as threatening and implicitly violent. (Unlike today, of course. We’re way beyond that, amiright?)

    It was even worse when MLK spoke out against the Vietnam War. At the time, support for the war was a litmus test for one’s loyalty to the US. MLK had, in the mainstream view, allied himself with the Godless Communist menace (the Red Tide) that we were holding at bay in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

    It wasn’t until years after he was dead and buried and first-hand memories faded that the media and popular histories started rewriting history to turn him into a sort of black Mr. Rogers.

    But I remember.

    And the lesson I draw from this, and from the other lies and rewritings of the history I lived through, not to mention all the awful stuff that social media are now revealing that the Mainstream Media have hidden and ignored and denied since forever, is that what we learn in school and from the media is as much revisionist propaganda in the service of Teh Power as anything the Soviet state ever fed its citizens.

    And, of course, that however bad you suspect things are, the truth is always even more awful than you thought.

  2. 2

    King also spoke against the US’ bombing of Vietnam, and connected peoples’ right to live with people’s right to live in peace. As the US prepares to spend $1t ‘upgrading’ its vast nuclear arsenal (while browbeating other countries about them having the potential to think about having a nuclear program) I’m sure his ‘friends’ in the establishment would be back to wishing him dead pretty quickly.

    It’s always interested me that so many people are willing to create a vast right-wing conspiracy around JFK’s assassination but FBI involvement in MLK’s killing? Nah, that was just random craziness.

  3. 3

    One other annoying thing about the ‘whitewashing’ of MLK: even his ‘I have a dream’ speech is not particularly conciliatory. In the part where he says “we have come to cash a check, drawn on the bank of liberty” – referring to the huge peaceful mass before him – he was obliquely pointing out that the protest movement was merely a run-up to more general insurrection. And he meant it.

    Nowadays all you hear is the rainbows and unicorns bits of that speech.

    Back in the days when I ran a software company we had a policy for MLK day: you could either come in and work, or you could take the day off after you listened to an MP3 (provided on our internal server) if the entire speech. Later, when we grew over 30 people and I had an actual Human Resources person, they freaked out at me and we discontinued that policy. I still like it.

  4. 4

    “MLK was a mild-mannered, sweet, compassionate, reasonable man”

    I’m sure he was. Part of the time.

    I was in high school and college during his most active years, and he was considered more dangerous by my conservative classmates (AZ, home of the John Birch Society) than the Black Panthers because he was so personable. Newton and Seale were scary dudes, King was smooth and polite.

  5. 5

    And the lesson I draw from this, and from the other lies and rewritings of the history I lived through, not to mention all the awful stuff that social media are now revealing that the Mainstream Media have hidden and ignored and denied since forever, is that what we learn in school and from the media is as much revisionist propaganda in the service of Teh Power as anything the Soviet state ever fed its citizens.

    One of the things I liked about my high-school US History teacher was that on the first day of class, he more or less said “This is the textbook we’re using. Parts of it are only half-true and meant to paint the United States in a favorable light. Other parts are pure myth. Please keep that in mind throughout this class.”

  6. rq
    6

    When I was in high school, he was always contrasted against Malcolm X (with Malcolm X being the inciter to violence), but the more I learn, the more I think he just had a little bit more patience and forbearance, but not necessarily tolerance.

  7. 7

    I was a senior in high school when MLK was murdered. I know who he was. Who he really was. His anti-Vietnam stance was really causing trouble. There were some conspiracy theories in the black community at the time that that was the real reason the FBI killed him (I did say it was a conspiracy theory). King was of the opinion that wars like that were fought by the poor and in this case mostly by poor black people, so ending it didn’t seem to be much of a priority for white upper class people, whose sons had college deferments. And note it wasn’t until they more or less got rid of the college deferments that we got serious about ending that war. Today isn’t much better. My son did two tours in Iraq because he had two kids to feed and getting a job that would do that was very difficult.

    Until he died a lot of the media and the less left-leaning people spent a lot of time trying to prove he was a communist (he was a democratic socialist) and that he’d stepped out on Coretta (don’t know how true that is, but I consider it perfectly possible and I don’t care–that’s Correta’s problem), and anything else they could smear him with. I think if he’d lived he would still be a large nasty thorn in the side of the comfortable as long as there was a large part of the society that weren’t comfortable at all.

    In general I know that MLK Day uses him as a symbol for the entire Civil Rights movement, but there is a reason for that. He was a firebrand who would not shut up. His commitment to non-violence was admirable and I believe a major reason why he was so much more successful than some of the others to get the PTB to listen to him. He was a savvy propagandist. Those little girls being threatened by police dogs were up front for a reason, folks. He made the more “benign” racists ashamed of their culture, and rightly so.

    And remember that he was in Memphis that day because he was helping out in a labor dispute. He was big on unions too.

  8. 9

    @5 – He was a savvy propagandist. Those little girls being threatened by police dogs were up front for a reason, folks. He made the more “benign” racists ashamed of their culture, and rightly so.

    Yes – and there was an argument between MLK and some of the other planners about doing it. They wanted to have the young men leading and guarding the march, which would not have had the same effect.

    One of my nephews had to write a paper for history, and drew MLK out of the topic jar. He was astonished and almost aghast at the calculated tactics, and also at the teenaged girls who knew what was probably going to happen and did it anyway.

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