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Sunday, January 20, 2019

The MLK That White People Like (SJB)

Let's get something straight, my fellow history-whitewashing, tender, gentle, fragile white people who like to quote Dr. Martin Luther King.

Like to quote him, but only when we want the "arc of history"'s inevitability to keep us from having to actually say or do something about racism or when we are clinging to the quote about love defeating hate because it convinces us that MLK would have never been angry and NEVER would have made us feel bad like that person of color just did by calling out our behavior as harmful.

The narrative we have in our heads is wrong. That story is wrong. It's been told to us a lot of times, so it's not entirely our fault, but it's time we learned the other narrative. The real one. The TRUE one.

MLK would not have hugged this out. MLK would not appreciate All Lives Matter. MLK would not have been a big teddy bear spewing platitudes about equality that make us feel good about doing literally nothing other than nobly refraining from burning crosses and (mostly) not using the N word.

MLK would have resisted authority. MLK would have broken unjust laws. MLK would have gotten arrested again and again. MLK would have been "no angel." MLK would not have just "obey[ed] the fucking law." MLK would have fucked up our commute home. MLK would have gotten in our face. MLK would have put his protests where we couldn't look away even if we wanted to. MLK would have told us to stop talking and stop telling black people what is and isn't their own oppression. MLK would have harshly censured anyone who wanted stability and peace over equality and justice. MLK would have told anyone practicing respectability politics that he wasn't entirely sure they were not a bigger obstacle to justice than outright, drunk uncle, Trump-loving racists. MLK would have spoken vociferously against capitalism because of its perpetual need for an underclass to use for labor. (Yes, THAT capitalism. The capitalism most of us think is the best, most moral system there could be and makes the world a better place and is more about human nature than that dirty communism. The capitalism upon which the star-spangled awesome US of A is built.) MLK would have condemned the capitalistic gains and white supremacy born of perpetual foreign wars. MLK would have said he could not condemn rioters even if he himself used non-violent civil disobedience absolutely akin to the Kapernick kneel. MLK would have told us that our silence made us complicit in white supremacy every damned day.

MLK would have died an enemy of the state.


Because he DID do all that stuff.

So if we're going to invoke him (as writers or as humans), let's use the right narrative. Let's cleave to the truth instead of commodifying the anti-establishment out of him until he makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy. Let us honor the story of who he really was and how he really agitated and how he successfully made white moderates feel PROFOUNDLY UNCOMFORTABLE about the injustice they tacitly supported, and not Texas-sharpshoot a couple of quotes from his "I have a Dream" speech that support our fee-fees that we're golden just as long as there's no active, bubbling, Kiefer-Sutherland-in-A-Time-To-Kill cauldron of hatred in our hearts.


10 comments:

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  2. So don’t quote MLK unless you’re quoting MLK because he made white people feel uncomfortable about not doing more to fight racism?

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    1. No. Don't quote MLK to justify inaction or, worse, border walls a la Mike Pence.

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    2. The article really makes it hard to glean that from it. Is there some kind of assumed shared wave length about this? Or does it just assume we all know these people who have been quoting MLK to justify inaction / have read the Mike Pence story?

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    3. I'm honestly curious Matt, are you unaware of the behaviors the article mentions? Have you never seen MLK used by white people to SHUT DOWN conversations about racism? Have you never seen them stick to certain quotes about love or the arc of history to try to defuse legitimate anger.

      This isn't about "wavelength." Dozens of similar articles come out every January. This is an endemic problem. You don't have to know the Pence story (I actually didn't at the time I wrote this because it hadn't happened yet). You don't even have to know people who quote MLK to justify their inaction (though that seems kind of unlikely). You just have to know OF them.

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