Martin Luther King would have offended you

May 16, 2018

 

Kym Young
Zenith News

Who will take my Blackness?
With my kinky hair
All those impolite stares.
The racial slurs
Freedoms deferred.
Lynching
Raping
Imprisonment
Genocide
Gentrification
And pseudo-assimilation.
Who will take my Blackness?

Will you stand up in my quest for equality?
Jump in front and take a bullet for me?
Will you fight the good fight?
Stand up for my rights?
For my dignity?
For my Human Rights?
Who will take
my Blackness?



On April 4, I gathered with 49 other people from our community to read aloud a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King. I guess you could call them the MLK’s Top 50 Greatest Hits. It was a nice event, but not what I was expecting. I didn’t realize until I got there that I was going to be reading a pre-selected quote instead of the one I had painstakingly double-checked to be sure I had the context and content correct.


Instead I was handed a number and told to read the quote beside it when my number was called: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”


Then I got out of the way for the next number in line.
The event, put on by the Duluth Human Rights Office, did its part to honor King’s legacy, but left out the revolutionary radicalism that was the reason he was assassinated. Yes, King espoused a non-violent ideology, but he was also a freedom fighter. An instigator. A provocateur. A disturber of the peace who called out injustice and inhumanity. A dissident, a rabble-rouser, and a felon. This is often glossed over in favor of a shined-up, saintly Martin Luther King—a charismatic, well-dressed statesman who happened to think we were denied freedom.


His words are often misquoted and used to shame people of color fighting for our freedom today. I know you’ve heard it from friends, colleagues, etc.: “Dr. King would be so ashamed of how these protesters are blocking roads!”


The fact is King himself blocked roads, participated in sit-ins, and was assaulted by the same mindset that many of us today face when we take to the front lines.


We can never forget that he was a revolutionary in opposition to white supremacy. We can never be satisfied with a whitewashed legacy distorted by the dominant culture as it embraces a peace predicated on the “Love Trumps Hate” version of King’s “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”


As a proudly labeled “Black Identity Extremist,” I do not believe King meant for us to console fragile white sensibilities. All too often, activists of color find ourselves in situations that require us to further compromise ourselves for fear of offending white sensibilities. Such distortion of our lived experiences and historical context of oppression is detrimental to dismantling racism.


Here is the quote that I had picked out to read:

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.

This is as true of white progressives today as it was in 1967. We cannot afford to perpetuate a watered-down version of an idealized civil rights movement where Kumbaya replaces liberation.

Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans...Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.
~“Where Do We Go From Here,” 1967

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