FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.

Every year I ask myself questions about the shameful exploitation of Martin Luther King Jr.–why do Americans love to disgrace his message so much? Why is it so popular that we see it year after year? Remember last year? Trump was talking about “s@!#hole countries” while tweeting “I encourage all Americans to observe this day with appropriate civic, community, and service activities in honor of Dr. King’s life and legacy.” What is to stop longtime racists like Rep. Steve King from copying and pasting a quick quote into their twitter feeds? Last year he posted: “Ive been to the mountain top. And I’ve seen the promised land. …we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” And yet his long list of racially offensive comments and associations with avowed white nationalists, recently published in the New York Times, reveal his use of Dr. King’s words to be a snide mockery.

Of course the GOP has recently (finally) taken a moment to be critical of Steve King’s flagrant white supremacy in 2019, but they still refuse to comment on the same racist behavior from President Trump. Minority leader Kevin McCarthy said about King’s outlandish comments defending white nationalism, “That is not the party of Lincoln and it’s definitely not American.” Great. Now how about Trump’s longtime racism? Trump’s “My Kevin” (Trump’s nickname for him when McCarthy was House Majority Leader) doesn’t get this, hence more MLK Day whitewashing.

Sadly, Trump’s Kevin is wrong; racism has never been beneath the “dignity of the party.” Nothing is more Republican than racism—a wall serves as a modern day burning cross and the rallying point of contemporary bigotry; Nothing is more American than racism—the country’s vast fortunes were built on slave labor and theft of land from indigenous people. Nothing could be further from the message so many in the GOP copy, paste, and ignore: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” It is the kitsch of far-right Rep. Barry Loudermilk and politicians across the country, cynically misappropriating words they neither earned nor deserve. A firm commitment to Trump’s racist promises isn’t just cowardly; it is antithetical to the love that Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Teen Vogue, in a great piece on MLK one year ago, gets it better than these jellyfish do, MLK was radical in his support the love supreme Jesus preached: “Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.”

His message was his life, and justice was not an accessory. Trying to score some easy political points by pretending to condemn racism for a second fails the larger picture. “It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.” In a country with too many warmongers, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Leaders who’ve sacrificed are rare, the pronouncements we hear are for expedience, and we see those making empty declarations simply don’t measure up. The failures are not just at the level of leadership. As citizens MLK provided us with clear guidance: “what are you doing for others?” “Change,” he told us, “comes from continuous struggle.” Are we living up to these instructions?

“The Dream” is not a feel-good story. It is the story of resistance and struggle. This is why few things could be more offensive than sanitizing his words and using them with the intention of pacifying the oppressed. MLK spoke to defend those who demanded equal pay and equal access—people were tired of being pushed around. Forget the “our party freed the slaves” and think about the ongoing need for dignity and equality. MLK died in solidarity with sanitation workers–maybe you can stick up for those furloughed or out of work in a racist and classist political stunt. We’ve got to get past the sentimentality.

When MLK spoke to us he pressured us to look deeper and bigger. “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” The gap between the rich and the poor is only growing, and trillion-dollar tax giveaways to the rich are not helping. “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit,” and his observance of our ubiquitous engagement in violent conflict continued that it would not end until “there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.” So, finding quotes is easy, but this last one is key: “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.” The cowards cannot get behind the radical message, and they will not get there on their own; “there is a promised land” but don’t forget it was envisioned by Martin Luther King working for the Poor People’s Campaign, uniting poor Whites, Blacks, Natives, Latinx and many others. That’s the Martin Luther King Jr. coalition, not the Rep. Steven King segregated fan group.

More articles by:
August 12, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War On Arms Control and Disarmament
P. Sainath
“We Didn’t Bleed Him Enough”: When Normal is the Problem
Riva Enteen
Kamala Harris? Really? Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Kenneth Surin
The Decrepit UK Political System
Robert Hunziker
Freakish Arctic Fires Alarmingly Intensify
Ramzy Baroud
The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis
Sam Pizzigati
Within Health Care USA, Risk and Reward Have Never Been More Out of Kilter
John Perry
The US Contracts Out Its Regime Change Operation in Nicaragua
Binoy Kampmark
Selective Maritime Rules: The United States, Diego Garcia and International Law
Manuel García, Jr.
The Improbability of CO2 Removal From the Atmosphere
Khury Petersen-Smith
The Road to Portland: The Two Decades of ‘Homeland Security’
Raouf Halaby
Teaching Palestinian Children to Love Beethoven, Bizet, and Mozart is a Threat to a Depraved Israeli Society
Jeff Mackler
Which Way for Today’s Mass Radicalization? Capitalism’s Impending Catastrophe…or a Socialist Future
Tom Engelhardt
It Could Have Been Different
Stephen Cooper
Santa Davis and the “Stalag 17” Riddim
August 11, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy
Paul Street
Defund Fascism, Blue and Orange
Richard C. Gross
Americans Scorned
Andrew Levine
Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities
Sonali Kolhatkar
Trump’s Presidency is a Death Cult
Colin Todhunter
Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success
Valerie Croft
How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19
David Rovics
Tear Gas Ted Has a Tantrum in Portland
Dean Baker
There is No Evidence That Generous Unemployment Benefits are Making It Difficult to Find Workers
Robert Fantina
War on Truth: How Kashmir Struggles for Freedom of Press
Dave Lindorff
Trump Launches Attack on Social Security and Medicare
Elizabeth Schmidt
COVID-19 Poses a Huge Threat to Stability in Africa
Parth M.N.
Coping With a Deadly Virus, a Social One, Too
Thomas Knapp
The “Election Interference” Fearmongers Think You’re Stupid
Binoy Kampmark
Mealy-Mouthed Universities: Academic Freedom and the Pavlou Problem Down Under
Mike Garrity
Emperor Trump Loses Again in the Northern Rockies in Big Win for Bull Trout, Rivers and the ESA
Alex Lawson
34 Attorneys General Call to Bust Gilead’s Pharma Monopoly on COVID Treatment Remdesivir
August 10, 2020
Gerald Sussman
Biden’s Ukrainegate Problem
Vijay Prashad – Érika Ortega Sanoja
How the U.S. Failed at Its Foreign Policy Toward Venezuela
Daniel Warner
Geneva: The Home of Lost Causes
Mike Hastie
The Police Force Stampede in Portland on August 8, 2020 
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s Executive Orders: EOs as PR and FUs
Rev. William Alberts
Cognitive Without Conscience
David Altheide
Politicizing Fear Through the News Media
F. Douglas Stephenson
Is Big Pharma More Interested in Profiteering Than Protecting Us From Coronavirus?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Money Plague
Howard Lisnoff
Revolutionaries Living in a System of Growing Fascism
Ralph Nader
Donald Trump is Defeating Himself
Lynnette Grey Bull
The Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Human Rights Emergency is Not a Photo-Op for Ivanka Trump
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail