This is inspired by a conversation that is another episode in a long history of misunderstanding Martin Luther King, Jr.
The two actors in this conversation are Chris Ray Gun, a popular anti-SJW YouTuber; and Franchesca Ramsey, popular Youtuber, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore writer and contributor, and host of the MTV show Decoded.
Chris Ray Gun started out with:
Racial tensions in the US are bad, but at least they've given unlimited energy in the form of MLK spinning infinitely in his grave.
— Chris Ray Gum™ (@ChrisRGun) June 2, 2017
Honestly, it’s somewhat difficult to figure out what Chris Ray Gun means when he talks about “racial tensions” and MLK “spinning infinitely in his grave” at first. One might be willing to nod — yes, there is racial tension, and yes, MLK would probably not be happy about that. But why? Because black people were complaining, or because white people weren’t listening?
But then, Franchesca seems to clarify CRG’s stance in her response:
i wish folks would read something other than the opening line of "i have a dream" before fixing their mouth to use MLK's name to silence
— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) June 2, 2017
And apparently she had the right idea in assuming CRG was saying black people were complaining too loudly:
I guess I totally forgot about the part of the speech where he argues for racial unity and common sense, and then immediately says "lol jk." https://t.co/45wyPrksnU
— Chris Ray Gum™ (@ChrisRGun) June 2, 2017
Behind this statement that black people should stop complaining and contributing to “racial tensions” and instead embrace “racial unity and common sense” is the thinking that we have equal opportunity, and that we should realize that racism is not a major problem in America for the government to do much about — it’s only a problem because black people talk about it so much, instead of taking responsibility for their own destiny in a relatively “colorblind” world. MLK wanted us to stop seeing race, the thinking goes, and many black people in the United States are doing the exact opposite of this.
The view of MLK as someone who would want black people to stop making such a big deal about racism and be satisfied with the fact that they live in a colorblind society is not new. Chris Ray Gun got his drastically inaccurate picture of MLK from several others, including President Ronald Reagan.
Let me give you an example of how Ronald Reagan rubber-stamped and molded the whitewashed myth of MLK.
Y’know the whole Affirmative Action thing? What do you think MLK would have thought about Affirmative Action? Got your answer?
Chris Ray Gun probably would say that MLK was against it because he wanted to ensure that, as the “I Have A Dream” speech stated, people are judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Obviously, he and his followers would say, that means he would not want his children to be given preferential treatment. The optimal thing would be for them be succeed as individuals based on their merits, not because an institution was encouraged to meet a quota. MLK would totally be against black quotas in universities.
And Chris Ray Gun would be in good company. This idea goes all the way back to the very first MLK Day in 1986, before which Ronald Reagan said:
We’re committed to a society in which all men and women have equal opportunities to succeed, and so we oppose the use of quotas. We want a colorblind society, a society that, in the words of Dr. King, judges people “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Chris Ray Gun wouldn’t be saying anything new, then. It’s an argument that’s been made since the whitewashing of MLK began in earnest.
What did MLK actually say about quotas? Here he is in 1964:
Among the many vital jobs to be done, the nation must not only radically readjust its attitude toward the Negro in the compelling present, but must incorporate into its planning some compensatory consideration for the handicaps he has inherited from the past. It is impossible to create a formula for the future which does not take into account that our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years. How then can he be absorbed into the mainstream of American life if we do not do something special for him now, in order to balance the equation and equip him to compete on a just and equal basis?
Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man is entered at the starting line in a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.
Yes, MLK was an avid advocate of affirmative action. And if you think about it for two seconds, both of these issues are compatible. You CAN be judged for the content of your character — and still be given greater opportunity to make up for the lack of opportunity through affirmative action.
It was precisely MLK’s stance on issues like affirmative action that Reagan wanted to whitewash MLK in the first place. He did that in a couple steps, long story short. He’d focus on the importance of change in the individual, and diminish the change needed in society. So he used MLK to say, “Look what the individual can accomplish by themselves,” and also to say, “Because people like MLK have shown you that you can accomplish a lot by yourselves, you don’t need the help of the government.” (You can read more about this dynamic here).
That’s the image most people have of MLK. And it’s by design. Reagan was initially hesitant about creating MLK Day (in spite of tremendous pressure) but eventually he did because people had such an inaccurate view of King. As Reagan stated in a letter he wrote before making his decision to go ahead with MLK Day:
On the national holiday you mentioned, I have the reservations you have but here the perception of too many people is based on an image not reality. Indeed to them the perception is reality.
In other words, Reagan had reservations about MLK Day but went ahead with it because people did not know the REAL MLK. Thus, if he emphasized the whitewashed version of MLK, he could make the recognition of MLK Day less of a threat to his agenda — and maybe even (as we’re about to see) an asset to it.
Because the real MLK had a fundamentally different philosophy than Reagan. Reagan believed that black individuals should not appeal to the government for economic redress for the ways they had been wronged (he was also originally against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed segregation and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but he changed those positions — arguably to ensure he got into office). MLK, on the other hand, believed that the government should play a significant role in ensuring the rights of blacks were protected.
So Reagan created and emphasized the whitewashed version of MLK Chris Ray Gun and his friends keyed into. And this is important, because MLK was one of the most influential civil rights activists of all time. Whatever he was doing worked.
The whitewashed MLK, as we just saw, was much like Reagan (which would make sense, as Reagan created him) in being against all forms of affirmative action. Rather, for the whitewashed MLK, individual black individuals were supposed to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps instead of pleading for the government to do it for them.
The real MLK, as noted above, said that affirmative action was necessary so that black individuals would make up lost ground, and saw that as completely compatible with — and necessary for — racial equality.
The whitewashed MLK would hate Black Lives Matter for hogging up the streets and disobeying laws in their marches. He was for racial equality, but one that depended on the individual instead of people whining to the government and breaking laws to get their attention. The way for reform, according to whitewashed MLK, was to do everything in a polite, orderly fashion.
The real MLK wrote:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. 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; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
Here’s the kicker: He wrote that while he was in the Birmingham Jail.
What was he in jail for? Not just marching. Marching without a permit.
No, really. Here. Look at the newspaper:
Negro leaders said today that they will not obey an injunction banning racial demonstrations in Birmingham.
The blanket injunction was issued Wednesday night by Circuit Judge W. A. Jenkins Jr….
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and behind-the-scenes director of the current movement, headed the list of names in the injunction….
The eight leaders [which included MLK] laughed as a plain-clothes officer handed them copies of the injunction, which was requested by the City of Birmingham.
So, let’s recap.
A bonafide judge said, “Don’t march in Birmingham — ESPECIALLY you, MLK.”
And he laughed.
And he marched anyway. Totally unlicensed march. No roads were blocked off. No permit was granted. Just what some would call a blatant disregard for the law. He could have marched ANYWHERE IN THE UNITED STATES and he chose to march in Birmingham, Alabama in particular, the one place they were specifically telling him not to.
This is so different from the whitewashed MLK who, on the very blog network I write on, had words put in his mouth against real MLK’s actions as if they were MLK’s own, stating:
King appealed to the local black population to use the courts and not the streets to secure civil rights. He counseled “law and order and common sense,” not demonstrations that “incite to hatred and violence,” as the most prudent means to promote justice.
One problem: Those words were not written by MLK. Those phrases urging “law and order and common sense” and the encouragement to avoid demonstrations that “incite to hatred and violence” are NOT words from MLK; they are words that an angry group of white pastors wrote to MLK when MLK was in jail for marching in Birmingham and getting arrested when he had been specifically told not to. They said:
Just as we formerly pointed out that “hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions,” we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however, technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham….
We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.
They further stated that “we feel that inflammatory and rebellious statements can lead only to violence, discord, confusion, and disgrace for our beloved state.”
Or, in other words, they encouraged MLK to shut up. As people today are encouraged to shut up.
And in response to them, MLK penned, in jail, the quote I included a few lines above: “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. 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.”
So yeah. You’re dead wrong when you say that MLK was against unauthorized marches. He laughed when he was told specifically not to march, went to jail for it, and basically trashed the people on his side who said he had gone overboard, saying that they were probably worse than the KKK.
That’s not all. Whitewashed MLK was against reparations. He was, in the mold of Reagan, about the dignity of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.
But in a 1965 interview with Playboy done by Alex Haley, there is the following exchange:
Playboy (Alex Haley): Along with the other civil rights leaders, you have often proposed a massive program of economic aid, financed by the Federal Government, to improve the lot of the nation’s 20,000,000 Negroes. … A nationwide program such as you propose would undoubtedly run into the billions.
King: About 50 billion, actually — which is less than 1 year of our present defense spending. It is my belief that with the expenditure of this amount, over a 10-year period, a genuine and dramatic transformation could be achieved in the conditions of Negro life in America. I am positive, moreover, that the money spent would be more than amply justified by the benefits that would accrue to the nation through a spectacular decline in school dropouts, family breakups, crime rates, illegitimacy, swollen relief rolls, rioting and other social evils.
Playboy (Alex Haley): Do you feel it’s fair to request a multibillion-dollar program of preferential treatment for the Negro, or for any other minority group?
King: I do indeed. Can any fair-minded citizen deny that the Negro has been deprived? Few people reflect that for 2 centuries the Negro was enslaved, and robbed of any wages – potential accrued wealth which would have been the legacy of his descendants. All of America’s wealth today could not adequately compensate its Negroes for his centuries of exploitation and humiliation. It is an economic fact that a program such as I propose would certainly cost far less than any computation of unpaid wages plus accumulated interest. In any case, I do not intend that his program of economic aid should apply only to the Negro; it should benefit the disadvantaged of all races.
So the real MLK certainly saw nothing wrong with reparations (although he wanted government funds to benefit all races, he clearly thought reparations were justified). And that $50 billion, by the way, is $388 billion in 2017 dollars. It wasn’t chump change. It was an enormous economic program, which MLK thought would improve “the conditions of Negro life in America.” This is so shocking to some of the people reading the above link that one comments the following:
Hmmm…this changes my opinion about Dr. King. Seems that he was a proponent of government handouts, and not so much of a “character” person after all.
Well, he was both, but good that you’re seeing the light.
What about that good ol’ whitewashed MLK’s belief that we should pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps (thanks to Reagan’s molding of MLK’s legacy)?
Well, the real MLK states:
At the very same time that America refused to give the Negro any land, through an act of Congress, our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the mid-West, which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor.
But not only did they give the land, they built land grant colleges with government money to teach them how to farm. Not only that, they provided county agents to further their expertise in farming. Not only that, they provided low interest rates in order that they could mechanize their farms. Not only that, today many of these people are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies not to farm.
And they are the very people telling the black man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And this is what we are faced with. Now this is the reality. Now when we come to Washington, in this campaign, we are coming to get our check.
He died three weeks before he could go on that march — the Poor People’s March. It’s clear here that he didn’t think much of the “lift yourself up by your own bootstraps” solution.
Chris Ray Gun’s whitewashed MLK also was upset about tension, right?
And yet the actual MLK, in his Birmingham jail cell, said:
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
So no, MLK is not spinning in his grave due to the tension. He’d appreciate it.
What he wouldn’t appreciate is white moderates who ruin his legacy in a whitewashed lie of who he is and use it to silence the very tension he thought was of paramount importance.
He thought they were likely even worse than the KKK.
I’m inclined to agree.
Thanks for reading.
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