Just Another Black Thought: Civil Rights Day

MLK quote

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We probably shouldn’t be saying this on MLK day but today should be named Civil Rights Day and not Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

MLK definitely did a whole lot. I’m not criticizing him. Just the way his memorial is used and the ignorance towards his total set of politics. I respect all his accomplishments and his stand against injustice, but his memory and a very select few of his beliefs and methodologies are mobilized by the current majority of America time and again to criticize modern black liberation / black protest movements. He only has a monolithic position because some of his views are easily sanitized, digestible, and didn’t scare the (mostly white) powers present during his time. Unlike Malcom X.

Malcolm X was “the boogeyman.” There’s got to be a scary, ever present alternative to peaceful protest in order for change to be effected. Malcolm X and MLK pretty much agreed on everything. Their differences were mainly a matter of rhetoric and context. They both understood that they needed each other.

Malcolm X, who is contrasted as “violent / scary / militant” in the US education system, but who wasn’t really violent so much as he was unabashedly black or Muslim. While, MLK took the white man’s approach to Civil Rights. He co-opted to this strategy because smearing him didn’t work as well as it did for other black Civil Rights leaders. I.e. all his turn the other cheek and peaceful speeches were things the white community could commiserate with and that’s why he’s popular & venerated. And that now leads to shitty situations where the white community uses his name as a stick to try to punish the black community when “acting up.”

For example:

  • “Stop kneeling at football games! MLK wouldn’t do that, he would make speeches / teach from the Bible/Constitution” (Which Colin actually did in Oakland)
  • “Stop holding up traffic you silly BLM people! MLK was about equality and all lives matter – don’t tarnish his memory!” (Except for that time the big march in Selma held up the entire bridge of traffic…)

People have really retroactively softened MLK’s image. During his lifetime, MLK was HUGELY villainized by a lot of mainstream American politicians and news organizations. You can look back at newspapers at the time especially and there are articles accusing him of inciting violence, starting riots, being anti-white, etc. Not just his organization or his peers, but actual direct accusations saying that MLK himself was personally anti-white and inciting anti-white violence.

And now, MLK is easily sanitized because he’s being filtered through high school history classes, Hollywood, and memes. Like you, it makes me want to slap people who sanitize his history. But, simply reading the man’s words is enough to realize that his legacy has become co-opted by those who wish for Americans to remain passive in the face of injustice.

Schools aren’t reading “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” or “The Other America.” They’re reading “I Have a Dream” which is powerful, but doesn’t actually say much beyond affirming a hope for a future without racial division, which people interpret as now, confirming their own beliefs. I, we, want and need him to actually be understood as a Civil Rights figure, not whitewashed towards cynical political ends.

Maybe I’m just frustrated and once again I probably shouldn’t be saying this on MLK day. But this dude was not the only figure in the Civil Rights movement. How many of you guys know about Fred Hampton, Stokely Charmichael, and Angela Davis? Did you know that at its inception on October 15, 1966, the Black Panther Party’s core practice was an armed citizens’ patrols to monitor the behavior of officers of the Oakland Police Department and challenge police brutality in Oakland, California? Basically the same shit Black Lives Matter is fighting to this day.

Logical consistency is something everyone should really shoot for. It’s tough, though, especially with so much messaging from politics, social media, and uneducated family/peer members that it’s difficult to stay grounded and keep a consistent perspective. Wake up Black America and don’t let them whitewash your history away.

This essay was put together using various comments off of a Reddit post in the subreddit R/BlackPeopleTwitter.
For more conscious writing please check out the rest of our blog.

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