It is 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered by white supremacy. And while a lot has changed in the world in those 50 years, it is important to remember how little has changed. From the wealth gap to the class and race divides stoked by those on the right and the left to advance their agendas, anyone who would claim that America has largely solved its problems with race and racism is almost certainly bigoted, or a member of the current administration.
We can never forget the fact that Dr. King’s legacy was rewritten by the same establishment that helped pull the trigger 50 years ago.
In his lifetime, Dr. King was a hated man. Hated by the powerful for wanting to upset their dynamic. Hated by the poor whites, because of the lies spread about him and his movement in the media. Many of those who celebrate him now use his name to excuse their crimes, and many still refuse to acknowledge his fight as a fight for all the disenfranchised and disaffected. Most modern American politicians, despite their virtue signalling, would have opposed Dr. King had they been alive at the same time.
His was not a fight for black Americans, it was for all Americans, and more broadly, all people. MLK was a revolutionary. A fighter. His legacy has been painted as that of wholly peaceful protest, recalling notions of Rosa Parks refusing to move from her bus seat, the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins, and the speeches of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The dogs, hoses, tear gas, bombs, bullets, lynchings and concerted effort by the FBI to shut down the civil rights movement are wiped away, and when they are recalled, they are depicted as small groups of backwards, ignorant individuals. Racism is never directly confronted, because there is always a relatable white saviour who can champion King and the civil rights movement in absentia. Maybe it’s through the quick passage of the Fair Housing Act in the wake of Dr. King’s murder, or Lyndon Johnson standing up to George Wallace; and, of course, the fact that George Wallace was both duly elected AND popular enough to run for president is never considered.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent years fighting for the weak, powerless and those unable to speak up, both black and white. He knew that if we continued to be divided by such base prejudice we would never hold the rich and powerful to account.
In the U.S., his fight, his message, continues with those demanding accountability from police for their brutality, their racism, and their murder of unarmed citizens. He is in Standing Rock, with those who tried to protect their lands, and their waters. He is in Flint, MI alongside those who just want to be able to drink clean water without being poisoned. He is in Puerto Rico as they attempt to recover from a hurricane that destroyed so much of their infrastructure, all the while being ignored by their federal government.
As both Democrat and Republican alike seek to claim Dr. King’s message as one that might endorse their harmful, hateful, racial agendas, Americans would be better served listening to those the media and establishment claim do not represent their country, such as Colin Kaepernick, Jemele Hill, or anyone whose NYT obituary includes the phrase “no angel”, and challenging those who would make such assertions.
Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign as early as 2011 by questioning the legitimacy of the first black President of the United States. A land of slavery and Jim Crow, having elected Barack Obama, was told repeatedly by his successor, that the 44th POTUS was not an American, even after it was categorically exposed as a racist lie. Donald Trump should have been driven from the public eye, and yet he was endorsed, elected and deified by the same race-baiting networks he now rails against. He was also endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan; defended a Nazi killing a woman in Charlottesville; wanted the Central Park Five to be executed, even after they were exonerated; and, well, his Presidency been the textbook example for modern, establishment white supremacy.
As First Lady, Hillary Clinton labelled young African Americans “superpredators”, championing tough on crime legislation that sent disproportionate numbers of African Americans to prison. When Bill Clinton was Governor of Massachusetts, the Clintons kept slaves working in the Governor’s mansion, under the exemptions that exist for prisoners in the 13th Amendment. No one is more representative of establishment Democrats than the Clintons, and their racism, both overt and covert, runs deep.
The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is progressive, democratic socialism. It is more closely related to the ideas of Bernie Sanders than Barack Obama; and while Obama had the lived experience of a black man in America, he also had the money of a Goldman Sachs PAC. There’s no way Dr. King would have bailed out the banks when millions of Americans were left homeless.
Dr. King knew that legislators could not be forced into morality. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King explained his rationale that an unjust law is no law at all. He knew that laws must be broken by those seeking to right the wrongs of history, those whose legislators have failed them. Anyone seeking to defend, represent, or uphold his legacy should not hesitate to defend those unable to defend themselves.
The poor, the weak, the disenfranchised, immigrants, refugees and members of any community facing active or passive discrimination for their skin, gender, sexuality or ability.