Three Ways to Honor Dr. King
It is detrimental to current intersectional movements for racial justice to forget that when he died, the Rev'd Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an enemy of the state, not a national hero. I have three suggestions that can help guard against deadening the sharp edges of Dr. King’s radical life and message.
Watch this video.
It is difficult to speak of Dr. King with integrity if you are unfamiliar with this video. Nearly five years after saying that, “America has given the Negro a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’,” the black Baptist prophet from Georgia detailed the ways in which the United States had disenfranchised, marginalized, and brutalized black people through overt exclusion from federal economic enrichment programs. Dr. King understood black people not as the lazy minstrels White America had for so long portrayed us, but as pilgrims wandering in a strange land, in search of fulfillment of promises made in centuries past.
Read this essay.
Nothing obstructs justice for black people more than white people who ignore the methodical systemic offenses exacted upon us on this continent over the last three hundred ninety-six years. This began with indentured servitude, but eventually evolved into chattel enslavement, an institution upheld by British and American law for centuries. A part of this methodical violence is the economic commodification of black people during the era of enslavement. Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts points out that, “in 1860, a Virginia trader valued 20-year-old slaves as “extra men”...worth $1,500-$1,600.” The transition from commodity to citizen has not been a smooth and we would all do well to be vigilant regarding the ways in which our society still lives with the assumption of black commodification.
If you are white, talk to your white friends and relatives about the ways in which white supremacy undergirds and defines your social location. Work to dismantle it, to the best of your ability. If you are not white, then, in the words of Lucille Clifton, “Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” Celebrate your resistance. Celebrate Dr. King’s edge. Celebrate the reality that forces of evil bent on your destruction have a short shelf life