by Joshua B. Hoe Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day.
I love Dr. King, and I have written about celebrating his legacy through action here many times (more on that below).
So often, to commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King, some pictures are shown on television and some talking heads say some things about what a "great man" he was (usually followed immediately by reducing him to almost the opposite of what he actually stood for and/or said).
One of the great things about tools like YouTube, is that much more thoughtful material can be produced without having to procure corporate backing (Ads).
I think the least we can do to remember a man who literally let himself be jailed in defense of equal protection for all human beings, is to understand what he actually stood for.
So, A few days ago, a great discussion of Martin Luther King's legacy was released online. It includes the rapper and activist Killer Mike (Run The Jewels), Senator Nina Turner, Senator Bernie Sanders and Dr. Cornell West.
Here it is:
I loved this discussion, it is substantive, there are NO commercial breaks and nobody is asking them to sum up quickly for a break. They respect each other and engage in thoughtful discussion about very important issues.
And, most important, they spend the entire time trying to unite the poor behind the struggle for justice (not just people of color).
I love that they Fight the cartoon character construction of Dr. King - As Killer Mike so eloquently put it at the beginning of the piece "we have been sold a load of crock."
You should not accept what Dr. West calls the "Santa Claus-ification" of Dr. King.
Dr. King was not only about legal equality for black people.
Dr. King was certainly not about colorblind meritocracy.
Dr. King was about legal, social, security, and material equality for black people (and for all people).
Legal equality was but one very difficult step (not the last step) in a long process of ensuring real equality after centuries of violence.
Usually Dr. King is used, mostly by white people (like myself) to:
A) Respond to black people protesting for material equality. Usually, to remind them that they should be striving for colorblindness not equality. A horrific perversion of the I Have A Dream speech (sadly that is how most remember the speech).
B) Respond to any incident of black violence during protests. Generally when something gets out of hand at a protest, talking heads use Dr. King to shame protesters for not living up to his legacy of non-violence (rarely does this get applied when white people commit violence).
My point is not to suggest that violence is a justified response to oppression, it is to suggest what Killer Mike paraphrases (but I will include in full) from Dr. King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
"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."
My point is this:
How often, in cases of violence, do you hear a talking head oppose the violence and the injustice.
Virtually 100% of the time talking heads shake their heads and suggest what a shame it is that someone is hurting 'the cause' by engaging in violence (not a shame that injustice is sparking and creating the conditions where violence flourishes).
Let me repeat:
What we should be concerned with, what should be the most important to us is examining the existing conditions that created the violence arising from injustice.
For instance, people of color having consistently less material opportunity across the board, people of color in urban communities being placed under siege in a civil (drug) war for decades, people of color facing the use of police deadly force at much higher rates per capita, and people of color being imprisoned at a much higher rate and sentenced to much harsher terms than white people.
That is material injustice. That is violent material injustice.
I am not saying people who foment violence should not be punished. I am saying that if we talk about being the "Greatest Nation In The World" we probably should prioritize the massive amount of violence against people of color in this country ahead of the actions of a few knuckleheads.
What I am saying is that it says something about us as a people when our concern with fixing massive societal material injustice is so fragile that we can be derailed every time some knucklehead at a protest commits property violence.
It says, we don't really care about correcting material injustice.
Why are we always MORE concerned with the individual (often a victim of a system of injustice) who lashes out in violence at a rally instead of the violence that created the rally in the first place?
We emphasize individual violence, I suspect, because once it has been contained and the person has been "removed" from view, we can pretend the "problems" have been resolved. We don't want to be upset or feel disordered.
We are, in other words, more committed to "Order" than "Justice."
I also love that Senator Turner calls Mike, Killer (like it's a first name - Mike is actually his first name as you might suspect, his last name is Render), really adorable.
In case you are wondering, this is not a new topic for this blog, I have written a great deal about social justice, communities of color, and about Dr. King. Here are some of my earlier posts:
Anyway, Killer Mike said people should listen to some Martin Luther King Jr. Speeches AFTER his "I Have A Dream" speech on YouTube, so here are a few of them:
Here is a clip from 1967 (the year I was born):
Here is his speech in Montgomery Alabama in 1965:
Happy Birthday Dr. King RIP!
How are you celebrating Dr. King's legacy today? What do you think his legacy is today? I would love to hear your opinions, leave a comment!