Skip to main content

Why I'm Uneasy with Martin Luther King Day

I remember when Martin Luther King Day was first declared a Federal holiday, how Arizona’s Governor Meecham repealed the previous governor’s establishment of the holiday there, and how Jesse Helms led opposition to it in Congress, on the grounds that King was unpatriotic, a Communist sympathizer, and not “important” enough to be honored with a holiday.
We all knew what they really meant, just as I knew what the childhood friend who dismissed it as “a black holiday” was calling black people in the privacy of his own mind. It was the 1980s, and it was pretty clear that what people who had trouble with celebrating Martin Luther King Day really had trouble with was racial justice.
Which is why it may seem odd that now, in the year 2016, I’m having some trouble with Martin Luther King Day myself.
One of the more painful things I’ve observed, since I began speaking out against racism, is the degree to which white people have taken a sanitized, safe, domesticated version of Martin Luther King into our hearts.  I wish I had never seen this, but I’ve actually seen it more times than I care to count: a black person speaks out against present-day racism and violence, and a white person attempts to shame him into silence by invoking Martin Luther King and what the white person is pleased to call “non-violence.”
What about riots?  The white person asks.
You’re so angry! The white person accuses.
I can’t support Black Lives Matter, the white person complains.  It doesn’t have the moral leadership of Martin Luther King.
Or–my (least) favorite: What would Martin Luther King think of what You People are doing?  (To which the rational answer–which I have seen made–can only be, “We’ll never know; You People killed him.”)


Meme generated from public domain photo.
And the definition of non-violence gets extended, almost infinitely, to mean no disrupting political rallies, no blocking traffic, no making unpleasant scenes at the mall.  “Non-violence” has become code for white people refusing to listen to live black voices, in the name of a distorted version of a man whose actual words we rarely bother to hear, beyond a sound-bite or two from the “I have a Dream” speech.
Are we “honoring” Dr. King?  Or are pretending that his death marked the end of racism in America?  What are we really celebrating here–his non-violence, or our hope to continue our lives without being inconvenienced by protests, shamed by justifiable anger, or disturbing life inside our comfortable white bubbles?Nonviolence–real non-violence–can be assertive and disruptive as hell, something I notice a large number of us white folks don’t want to acknowledge.
Likewise, it seems as though it’s inconvenient for those of us living in comfortable privilege to see that marginalization is violence… poverty is violence… indifference to oppression is violence. In fact, there’s a whole range of ways it is possible to be violent in our passivity.  I hate to see us dumbing down what nonviolence really means, bowdlerizing the legacy of Dr. King, in the service of our immediate emotional comfort.
.
I’m especially annoyed when those who don’t believe that non-violence applies to any other conflict in the world believe that, uniquely, black Americans should embrace non-violence. (Bombing the crap out of Middle Eastern countries in the name of peace is just fine, though.)
.
And also? to those who practice non-violence, but believe that disruption of the daily routines of the privileged counts as violence? Yeah, I’m pissed at you today, too.
Peacefully, non-violently pissed. But I sure wish we wouldn’t make Martin Luther King into the patron saint of tone-policing black activism.  Because that… is completely messed up.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/quakerpagan/2016/01/why-im-uneasy-with-martin-luther-king-day.html#YlXafF1s0oLStfcA.99

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What Do You Mean, Quaker Pagan?

"What do you mean, Quaker Pagan? You can't possibly be both!" Every now and then, we do get a comment on the blog that, if politely worded, does drive at basically that point. Usually the critic is a Quaker and a Christian, though I have certainly heard similar points raised by Pagans. Let me state a few things up front. Peter and I both do consider ourselves Pagan. Neither of us considers ourselves to be Christian--I never was one, and Peter hasn't been for decades. And we do consider ourselves to be Quakers... as does our monthly meeting, which extended us membership after the normal clearness process. We consider ourselves Quaker Pagans. (Why not Pagan Quakers? Pure aesthetics; we think the word order sounds better with Q before P.) Here's the argument for why Peter and I can't possibly be both: 1. Paganism is a non-Christian religion. 2. Quakers are a Christian denomination. 3. ERGO... Yes. We've considered that argument, oddly eno

Peter on Grief and Communities

Well, that was unexpected. For the last year, ever since my mom's health took a sharp downturn, I've been my dad's ride to Florence Congregational Church on Sundays. That community has been important for my dad and the weekly outing with me was something he always looked forward to and enjoyed, so I didn't mind taking him there. It meant giving up attending my own Quaker meeting for the duration, but I had already been questioning whether silent waiting worship was working for me. I was ready for a sabbatical. A month ago, my dad was Section-Twelved into a geriatric psych hospital when his dementia started to make him emotionally volatile. I had been visiting him every day at his assisted living facility which was right on my way home from work, but the hospital was almost an hour away. I didn't see him at all for three weeks, and when I did visit him there, it actually took me a couple of seconds to recognize him. He was slumped forward in a wheel chair, lo

There is a Spirit Which I Feel

I was always a "rational use of force" gal. For most of my life I believed that the use of force--by which I meant human beings taking up arms and going off to war to try to kill one another--was a regrettable necessity. Sometimes I liked to imagine that Paganism held an alternative to that, particularly back in the day when I believed in that mythical past era of the peaceful, goddess-worshipping matriarchal societies . (I really liked that version of history, and was sorry when I stopped believing in it as factual.) But that way of seeing reality changed for me, in the time between one footfall and the next, on a sunny fall morning: September 11, 2001. I was already running late for work that day when the phone rang; my friend Abby was calling, to give me the news that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York. So? I thought to myself, picturing a small private aircraft. Abby tried to convey some of what she was hearing--terrorists, fire--but the mag