Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been simultaneously remembered and forgotten; both reflected upon and neglected. We recall his name but disregard his legacy. He is a victim of revisionist history. Evidence of this was during the reactionary phase of this movement during August 2014, the “Genesis”; when the Ferguson uprising became the epicenter for a national conversation centered on police brutality. His words were used as a silencer against those of us in opposition to a historic tool and symbol of white supremacy, i.e. police brutality. One could argue that he has been taken out of context for the purpose of abuse and oppression just as frequently as the Bible.
In response to the awakening sounds released from Ferguson: the cries for justice, the honking car horns, non-violent direct actions, the shouts of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”, or “No Justice, No Peace”, or chanting the words of Assata, who challenges us to love and support each other, we were met with cliché “be peaceful” MLK quotes stripped of their authentic framework and dignity. Oppressors and their beneficiaries, to suit the agenda of black genocide and systemic violence towards people of color and the working class, are misusing Dr. King’s legacy.
Infuriated. Exhausted. Exasperated. Furious. Outraged. Wrath. Indignation. Offended. Pissed Off. Furieux. Attitude Lit. Irritated. Livid. Annoyed. Anger on fleek. Irked Soul. Enraged. Fâché. Appalled. Despite how multifaceted my language is, there isn’t any word on this planet that produces therapeutic release for my level of pissedtivity nor paint a precise picture of how, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the new ludicrous instrument of white supremacy used to amplify the sounds of white violence and drown out it’s victims of color and working class, has antagonized my spirit.
This is white supremacy’s attempt to hide itself in black face. The dilemma is when white people use black bodies as conduits for racial oppression, instead of black people accepting racial hatred with loving arms like racists want, some black people begin to correlate a freedom fighter, like Dr. King, as an enemy to liberation. He has become nothing more than duct tape over the mouths of disenfranchised people, the very people for whom he was once a voice. This form of psychological warfare is what Spivak would refer to as epistemic violence. The result is black people, who have been denied the true legacy of Dr. King and now suppressed by his words, begin to denounce him as a leader, and latch on to freedom fighters whose legacies have not been stolen… yet. Specifically freedom fighters who are so far away from Dr. King’s end of the “liberation tactics” spectrum, that they could “never” be misappropriated.
“Be peaceful” we were told from white Americans whose privilege was built on our nation’s obsession with extreme militarism. “’Be peaceful” the white person said while believing that poor people do not deserve any aid, whether white or black, and while failing to take the right stance in the Fight for $15. “Be peaceful” they wrote to us from their houses, which sat upon stolen land in strategically segregated neighborhoods. “Be peaceful and trust the system” they shouted as they urged us to be more like Martin Luther King, Jr. (who, by the way, felt the system was inadequate and needed to be replaced. Contrary to popular belief framed around white washing of his legacy, Dr. King was not a reformist, he was a revolutionary), or at least the man they perceived him to be due to miseducation. Frequently, Dr. King was used as litmus paper for those of us in the current movement, especially those of us that identify as Christian. I can’t count the number of times racists (read “white liberals”) took it upon themselves to tell us “you’re no Dr. King”. “Be peaceful” as they inhaled and exhaled privileges built from capitalism, and the exploitation of people across the globe. “Be peaceful” from the mouths of people intentionally choosing the side of injustice. They desired peace in order to maintain the current status quo. “Be peaceful” was their answer as they constantly evaded discomfort that such cognitive dissonance should bring. Demanding peace while denying justice. “Be peaceful” indeed.
Evidently, the true motive behind the unearned demand of peace was to silence victims of systemic racism because our sound made beneficiaries of systemic racism uncomfortable; the same discomfort that Dr. King challenged us all to embrace. The same discomfort and sacrifice he sought after when he consciously decided to align himself with the most underprivileged of this nation,
“I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity. I choose to live for and with those who find themselves seeing life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign. This is the way I’m going. If it means sacrificing, I’m going that way. If it means dying for them, I’m going that way, because I heard a voice say, ‘do something for others’”.
King not only chose the route of discomfort, but he expressed that there was no cheap way to peace. “Cheap way to peace” is what happened during August 2014, not to mention, the cheap way to peace caused August 2014 to happen. Peace certainly will not come through the fear and violent tactics that have been used against us. Police weapons used on our black bodies, in combination with white demands for our silence about our suffering, was the nation’s attempt to cheat its way to a peace that it did not earn. The “lovers” of the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. become even more peculiar when they display their failure to understand the connection between justice and peace. Peace comes only through justice. True peace comes by way of justice and leads to the promise land of love. Peace and justice are so intertwined that when speaking of them, I refer to them as a marital unit: husband and wife. These two are deeply in love, so intensely that one refuses to exist without the other; inseparable these two. They are one unit. They are one flesh. Justice penetrates peace, impregnates her with hope, which produces the fruit of love.
Imagine the result of negative peace. Honestly, an imagination is not necessary since we live it here in America, so recall the result of negative peace. Negative peace happens if those denied justice have chosen to remain silent, and continued swimming through pea soup or maintain the status quo. On a microscopic level, negative peace could look like a lover’s quarrel. Two parties despising each other, but instead of expressing themselves, it comes out in passive aggressive manners. On a macroscopic level, we refer to the “passive aggressive” utterances or circumstances as “micro-aggressions”, which are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. That’s the result of negative peace or “absence of tension”. A bunch of micro-aggressions and disconnect between each party within an entire nation. This is not tranquility. This is an illusion that brings temporary comfort to the privileged. Or it’s negative peace as King would say, “which is the absence of tension” vs. “a positive peace which is the presence of justice”.
Beyond misunderstanding the peace that King called for, it seems that people are unclear on what his dream actually was about. For some reason, images of white and black children holding hands and people only being judged by their character come to mind when discussing King. Or when conversing about King, most people’s minds are centered on “Civil Rights”, but rarely “Poor People’s Campaign”. This is a tragedy. I could argue that aligning himself with the most “underprivileged” is when some of his most revolutionary statements were made. King was what us new age organizers would refer to as “intersectional activist”. He sought justice not just for black people. He was not only speaking for black people. He certainly wasn’t a threat to our government for being a black leader only. His work was so much deeper. His words extended beyond the black American experience, they traveled across the oceans to speak on behalf the oppressed in other nations. Specifically, nations oppressed by our own government. It’s bizarre that people would believe King was assassinated by our government for going around telling black people to “be peaceful”. When reminiscing on King, it’s important to keep in mind that he was a threat to our government and the status quo. He was a threat because he highlighted the violence of America as a nation. He was a threat because he took a stance on international relations. He was a threat because he was a leader of various races of people. He was a threat because he called for a new system. He was labeled as a “traitor” and a “liar” by political leaders, which included President Johnson and head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. He was not gunned down for dreaming “fluffy” dreams that protect white fragility. If King were alive and still expressing his same ideologies, he would still be a threat. He would still be called “that troublemaker”. America hated King then, and due to the amnesia towards his legacy, one could conclude that America still hates him now. They only love King partially, in the portions that their privilege allows them to comfortably digest; the rest of him was buried along with his deferred dreams.
America has failed to respond to his call for mass civil disobedience, while only religiously reiterating the words in his speeches that made people (read “white people”) feel good. It’s weird because within the speech MLK depicted the image of innocent children, both white and black, holding hands, he also mentioned police brutality, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality”. This part of that SAME speech seems to be forgotten.
Or what about King’s other dreams? He also dreamt that “Negroes will be able to buy a house or rent a house anywhere that their money will carry them and they will be able to get a job”. I’ve yet to hear the same white people who misquote King speak out against the housing segregation that has taken place here in Saint Louis: the Delmar Divide, West Florissant vs. South New Florissant, North Webster, White Flight/Spanish Lake., or any of the countless areas in Saint Louis that are blatantly segregated. These areas are in exact contrast to the very dream that white people love to exalt and repeat.
“All lives matter! What about not judging by the color of one’s skin”, they shouted when we affirmed our black lives in a nation obsessed with assassinating blackness. It’s interesting because if King were alive he would probably be one of the many explaining the need for the black life affirming chant that has made it’s way across the nation. This theory is based on the fact that King understood the “provocative” chant of “Black Power” during his time. He understood its need. He expressed, “Black Power, in its broad and positive meaning, is a call to black people to amass the political and economic strength to achieve their legitimate goals. No one can deny that the Negro is in dire need of this kind of legitimate power. Indeed, one of the great problems that the Negro confronts is his lack of power. From the old plantations of the South to the newer ghettos of the North, the Negro has been confined to a life of voicelessness and powerlessness. The plantation and the ghetto were created by those who had power both to confine those who had no power and to perpetuate their powerlessness. The problem of transforming the ghetto is, therefore, a problem of power – a confrontation between the forces of power demanding change and the forces of power dedicated to preserving the status quo”. If King could understand the need for “black power”/ black empowerment, I’m confident he would understand the need for “Black Lives Matter”. Yet, the same people (read “white people”) will tell us “black lives matter” is exclusionary or derogative or inappropriate within the same breath that they just told us we need to be more like the “forgiving” and “loving” Dr. King.
And the icing on the cake? Dr. King expressed discontentment with the very white moderates/liberals who love misquoting him to condemn us for our methods of civil disobedience and protest which brings them discomfort,
“I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season”.
In conclusion, it is important moving forward that we understand Dr. King for who he was and what his work was about. He was more than a great orator or a Negro whose life met the requirements of “respectability politics”. He was a minster who loved deeply (both God and God’s people) and understood, as Dr. Cornel West phrased it , “that justice is what love looks like in public”. He acted on love, and pursued justice by bringing his own life into discomfort and a lack of safety, and fighting for the causes that impacted all people, and issues that prevented the will and promise of God from manifesting. He called us to relinquish our own privileges and comforts that come at the expense of exploiting and dehumanizing our fellow brothers and sisters. He called us for civil disobedience. He called us for the very highway shut downs that people denounce. He called us for disobeying the curfews. He called us to interrupt this system. Let us remember the King in the photo standing with signs that said “end segregated schools”, “jobs now for all”, “voting rights now”, etc. His love for God and God’s people addressed a multitude of economic, political, and social issues. Let us remember the King who was hated and rebuked by our government and the gate keepers of status quo. Let us remember.
I have a dream today that privileged people who hate change will stop misquoting a man who dedicated and sacrificed his life for the very liberation they are set on hindering. It’s worth noting that the sacrifice of King was not just on the balcony in Memphis, but his sacrifice was throughout his entire life. From his safety and comfort, to moving to one of the most underserved cities during his time, Chicago.
I have a dream today that militaristic, nationalistic, capitalistic, racist, and materialistic people will stop misquoting a man who spent his entire life focused on the termination of these systems and ideologies.
I have a dream today that people who seek to force black people to push for more reformist agendas, will stop misquoting a revolutionary man that understood the “whole damn system is guilty as hell” and needs to be “shut down”, and a new system must arise.
I have a dream today that Martin Luther King Day will no longer be just a day off. Instead we will begin to use this day to honor his life’s work, which was MASS CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE to interrupt and stop the flow of this current system.
I have a dream.
Written and edited by Angel Carter, January 18th. All rights reserved. No reproduction of this work permitted without authorization. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. © 2016 Angel Carter
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