Why It’s Hard To Celebrate MLK Day
originally written in 2015 for BlackCulture.com:
I am a freelance writer and I have work with a client most of today, Martin Luther King day. I won’t be able to attend any municipal events or view any tributes on television. I don’t have a television anyway, and I’m actually kind of glad I won’t be able to partake in America’s charade. This is in no way meant to disrespect the sacrifice and impact Martin Luther King had on all blacks and people of color in this country. I have seen his speeches, read his literature, and recognize his power and legacy every day of the year.
It’s just that in the midst of us dying, being bombed, marginalized and ignored, what I don’t need right now is to be lied to by America. I don’t need another sanctimonious American federal holiday where people suddenly extol the virtues of something they should probably think about every single day.
In a utopian world, we would all be generally cheerful, thankful, giving people with constant reverence for our veterans, well aware of the exploits of Martin Luther King. We would all keep Christoper Columbus’ pillaging of Native American land at the forefront of our mind. We would all think about the Presidents’ who followed the pillaging and became progenitors of systemic oppression that still holds us back. We would all recognize that this country wanted Independence from Britain’s control so we could control other countries. We could even do all of this thinking amidst a sugar high from the candies of our choice.
But this isn’t the case, in America we limit practicing good traits and remembering history to 24 hour increments, rarely telling the truth about them. Such is the case with MLK day. This country annually celebrates a piecemeal, borderline offensive projection of Martin Luther King. Like pretty much everything else that belongs to Black culture, White America runs with a complete misinterpretation of MLK’s legacy, one that completely serves their agenda.
The media attempts to make him a cuddly, “peaceful revolution” teddy bear so all future activists can be compared to him, so any movement that’s not completely submissive is seen as inferior and undeserving of recognition. The same policing system that beat and hosed MLK and his fellow activists still preys on blackness with no accountability. Ferguson, Missouri rioters and protesters who refuse to let the cycle continue have been vilified. This year in particular, I’m sure the “fair, balanced” and hamhanded commentary will have his legacy diametrically opposed to the protests and riots going on. They will discuss how he stressed nonviolence, but they won’t discuss how he said “a riot is the language of the unheard”, and “if the total slum violations of law by the white man over the years were calculated and were compared with the lawbreaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man.”
They pontificate about equality, justice, and being judged by the content of our character, but this country doesn’t represent any of that. Black people in this country are still judged by the color of our skin. Respectability politics and media fear mongering put every black youth in peril just by virtue of people believing in negative stereotypes. We may be able to drink from the same fountain, but color is still a huge barrier in the way of any true equality.
On the night Darren Wilson was absolved of murdering Mike Brown, President Barack Obama said “we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.” I was reminded of MLK saying we should “never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal”. Many proclaimed Obama’s election was the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream, but what they actually represent couldn’t be further apart. I feel MLK was deadset on revolutionizing the system that Obama currently leads.
We have a country where HBO and Showtime can negotiate hundred million dollar deals for two people to punch each other in a ring, but community centers, hospitals and schools are closing supposedly due to lack of funds. The middle class is bordering on nonexistent. It seems nearly impossible to get a job. The media is quick to air MLK’s opinions on racial equality, but they never discuss his views on economic equality, namely his push for guaranteed income for all Americans. His opinions were tenets of a Poor People’s Campaign set to align all people of color and push for the abolition of hunger and economic inequality. Economists said his solutions were feasible. He had JFK’s ear. He was killed 5 months after announcing the campaign.
The media doesn’t properly discuss the role of MLK’s peers, especially black women, in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. As Selma showed us, the advances MLK sought were not gained alone. At a time where the Black community is as fractured as ever, tomorrow would be a good time to celebrate an example of where solidarity could take us. I don’t expect Fox News, CNN, MSNBC or any other major outlet to inspire black women with specials on the Women’s Political Council, the National Council of Negro Women or any of the other women’s organizations consistently overlooked for their contributions.
Tomorrow will be a travesty. Politicians, municipal leaders and talking heads alike will pat their backs and pretend this is a colorblind country of equality. They will twist and turn King’s words to admonish rioters. They will discuss dreaming. Meanwhile, all the nightmares of the Jim Crow south are slowly coming back. An NAACP building was bombed in Colorado. A black youth was possibly lynched last summer. There is so much to be worried about in terms of racial and economic equality, but like with so much of Martin Luther King’s legacy, White America and America’s establishment in general will ignore it. I will in turn ignore them.