have posted this in one form or another on or around the Martin Luther King Day
Federal Holiday for 12 years. Long time
readers may be sick of it. Some of those
who were offended in earlier rounds have left the building in a huff—or come to
see that maybe it was not so far off the mark after all. The thing is, year by year, it becomes more
relevant. This year, of course, things
are different amid the restrictions of the Coronavirus on most public
observances and the looming inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on
Wednesday in the midst of an on-going racist coup attempt.
Today is the Federal Holiday celebrating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was born on January 15, 1929
and was assasinated on April 4, 1968
in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a long, hard fought effort to create a federal
holiday, following proclamations in
several states. President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation creating the holiday in 1983 and it was first celebrated nationally in 1986. The senior George Bush moved the date to the third Monday in January.
the national observance, several
states refused to enact state proclamations. After a national
economic boycott threatened the Super
Bowl in Arizona, the holiday was
officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.
on your state, schools may or may
not be open. It they are you can count on some kind of touchy-feely programming that will assure
children that once, long, long ago things weren’t so nice for Black people, but thanks to Dr. King everything
is just fine now. A tremendous amount of
time will be spent emphasizing his non-violence
and schools now routinely use the occasion as a center piece in their violence
prevention programs. They will also
emphasize tolerance of those who are
different—which it turns out may be the red-headed
kid or the girl with a lisp.
laudable as these things are, children
are not apt to be told that their grandparents may just have been the ones doing
the oppression of Black folk. Nor are they given any real sense of Dr. King
as a truly revolutionary figure
willfully defying the power of the state, demanding true systematic change, addressing class inequality, and in time of war leading an opposition to that war.
cities, towns, and villages
across much of the country, there will be obligatory
civic observations. These most often take the form of prayer breakfasts, dutifully attended
by local dignitaries of all
races. While some local Black preacher may take the occasion to lay out some harsh truths or even demand attention to
continuing injustices, everybody
will applaud politely. Politicians will parade to the podium with
bromides. Someone—preferably the precocious son of a Black preacher—will intone words from the I Have a Dream Speech, and at the
end maybe everyone will join hands
and sing We Shall Over Come. I
bet you have been to just this kind of event.
Hell, I’ve even helped plan and put them on.
fact this morning here in the Northwest
boonies of the Chicago area I
will be attending the FaithBridge
Annual MLK Breakfast featuring Dr.
Mark A. Hicks of the UUA’s Meadville
Lombard Seminary this morning at 8 am virtually.
day is typically celebrated with nostalgic
clips of the March on Washington
on the news, maybe a documentary or
two on Public Television.
of the people who hated Dr. King
when he was alive or who are their spiritual
descendants will blandly join in
the celebrations. And then they will turn his words against him. When you hear a plump politico with a honeyed
accent quote, as they all love to do, the one phrase from the I Have a Dream speech where he spoke
about the little children being judged not on the color of their skins but on
the strength of their characters, watch out.
That hack is about to use Dr.
Kings words to attack that dream. He will say that now that we have erased statutory discrimination, any lingering program that gives disadvantaged minorities the slightest leg-up is itself discriminatory. He will claim that Dr. King would want a
perfectly color blind society. Unspoken is his deep conviction that in such
a color blind society, white men
will rise like cream and be restored to their rightful place on top of the ladder—as if they had ever really lost it.
years ago among the leading hijackers of
Dr. King’s legacy was the despicable Vice President Mike Pence. In an appearance of CBS TV’s Meet the Press he
actually quoted King to support trading Donald
Trump’s phony Border Wall for temporary relief from deportation of the DACA Dreamers. Fox News and newer, even more vicious alternatives will easily match
that outrage today.
King will also be lauded for his non-violence, which will be translated
into passivity. Law
breaking—including the kind the Civil
Rights Movement routinely used—will be denounced. No word will be uttered that Dr. King’s
non-violence actually expected to
provoke violent opposition and used that response to tweak the conscience of a democratic
Dr. King’s time, police departments
have been provided with new arms and
tactics. New crowd
control methods and security provisions make the kind of marches, sit-ins, and demonstrations led
by King either difficult or kept far away from threatening the safety of those
being protested, as was seen repeatedly in attacks
on the Occupy Movement, Black Lives Matter protests, and at Standing Rock. New restrictions on the press—and when that doesn’t work outright attacks, arrests, and physical intimidation—keeps
reporters from fully reporting on acts of civil disobedience so that the public
consciousness may be safely left un-tweaked.
Of course as events at the Capitol showed that militaristic capacity was
not used against White insurrectionists.
few of years ago, rising to a new level of audacious gall, a senior Pentagon official, in a program marking
Dr. King’s birth at the Department of
Defense, actually argued that the Nobel
Peace Prize winner would understand and approve of the “work of our
soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
are told that because Dr. King was a faithful
Baptist, he would not today support Gay,
lesbian, and transgendered people and that it is a mockery to compare their struggle to the Civil Rights
Movement. The Black church is divided on this—even Dr. King’s children are—but it
is hard to imagine his rejection of justice for them.
some Black leaders will claim, especially in their own communities, that Dr.
King fought just for them, that
gains he fought for should not be extended to the growing Latino minorities that threaten to displace them as the most oppressed.
of this is possible because more than 50 years after his death Martin Luther
King has been sanitized. He has been scrubbed clean of the any semblance
of actual humanity, any personal foibles or flaws, and midnight doubts or struggles
of the soul. He has become an empty vessel into which can be poured a safe and bland pudding which can placate
pesky Blacks with a pat-on-the-head
while protecting the status-quo.
The real, flesh and blood Dr.
King would have none of it.
remember him today for who he was, not who the charlatans want to make him out to be. And let’s remember that as great as he was,
he was one man. Let’s not denigrate the
truly historic sacrifices of thousands and thousands of ordinary people who
repeatedly literally put their lives on
the line—and continue to do so today.
Let’s celebrate him and them by rededicating ourselves to standing up as
they did, by putting our bodies, when necessary, on the line to achieve his true dream of an equitable
and just society.
let’s embrace the new generation of
committed and imaginative young
Black leaders who are making sure America
learns that Black Lives Matter and
have energized new civil rights/economic justice movements like
the Moral Monday Marches and the new Poor People’s Campaign. If
we are White, let us battle our own egos
and fragilities, our fantasies of being White rescuers, commit to understand White privilege and systematic
racism, and allow us to become true allies
respectful of the leadership of the oppressed.