This weekend, all over the US, people are hosting a variety of purposeful gatherings in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy. Folks are praying, volunteering, listening to well-crafted speeches about unity, and more. And while these events can serve as great ways to start the new year and refocus our connectedness with the communities in which we live, they can also highlight the unwillingness of the US to collectively move forward.
If we observe our current social climate and take into consideration the comments Trump has made from the beginning of his campaign until now, it becomes clear that millions of people who invoke the name of Dr. King, and claim to celebrate his legacy, see him as some mythical character akin to Santa Clause. This white-washed version of Dr. King is essentially their Saint Nick of Blackness, welcoming all into acceptance through his safe nonviolent demeanor and eloquent words. They recite a few sentences which reflect positively on themselves—or how they see themselves—and smile, and sing, and wonder why everyone can’t simply just get along. During this holiday, they affirm that they are not racist and at the same time still support a president who is the complete antithesis of their jolly patron saint.
Dr. King stood on a philosophy of disrupting what he called triple evils: poverty, racism, and militarism. In addition to the famous parts of his speeches mindlessly taught in primary schools across the US, Dr. King also said things such as:
Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains?
The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity. (Where Do We Go From Here, 1967)
And, if you think those strong words about “white America” were only implications onto the overt racists of his time—i.e., the KKK and George Wallace’s of the world—then you would be gravely mistaken because Dr. King also said things like this:
First, I must confess that over the past 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 his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler 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 cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. (Letter From a Birmingham Jail, 1963)
Dr. King made great success during his short time on this planet. No, he wasn’t a perfect man, but no human is truly a paragon of morality and divine virtues. He was an activist who had a deep desire to challenge everyday Americans and prod their social passivity in order to prep them for reflection, dialogue, and change. In at least one instance, that instance being the case of civil rights, we can say that Dr. King won the battle. However, just because one battle was won doesn’t mean there are no more battles to be fought.
I can personally say, from my own anecdotal experience, that not every person who voted for Trump is a deplorable racist—although, let’s be real, many are. However, you do not have to be a deplorable racist to help perpetuate a system designed to mitigate and control the advancement of black and brown bodies. This was Dr. King’s message, and if you voted for Trump, and more so if you still support him today, you are on the opposing side to Dr. King. Which means, you need to ask yourself two things:
(1) How does being on the opposing side of Dr. King make you feel, and are you okay with that position?
(2) How old will you be when you stop believing in the myth of Jolly Old Saint King?