I have written at great length over the last few years about the astonishing chutzpah of the right wing claiming the mantle of Martin Luther King, which some have done repeatedly. But that’s just the more extreme part of a broader attempt to whitewash the civil rights leader. The indispensable Sincere Kirabo debunks the use of out-of-context quotes to justify an unearned colorblindness.
It’s true that King said he was hopeful that a day would come when people would be judged by the content of their character rather than skin color. Only, he was referring to a time in which racist ideologies and systems were dismantled. He was discussing an aspect of what a racially equal society would offer—at no time did he suggest people should try to realize this dream by “ignoring” skin color.
Anyone with a genuine interest in better understanding King’s race-conscious racial analysis and his body of work beyond kumbaya “love is all you need” snippets placed on loop by mainstream culture would see the folly of this “I don’t see race!” belief system.
In short, unfamiliarity with King’s full message and political activism leads to feel-good symbolism that acts as anti-black propaganda.
Polls show that MLK has a 94% approval rating in America, and that’s a good thing in general, but a great many people who claim to approve of, and even revere, the man are approving of a sanitized, simplified and mythicized version of him rather than the real person. That overwhelming popularity means that everyone wants to claim that King was on their side on their pet issue, often to ridiculous extremes.
And sometimes this is done by members of his own family. His niece Alveda King, who cares only about abortion, tries to pretend that he was on her side and was anti-choice. The reality is that he proudly accepted an award from Planned Parenthood and spoke in glowing terms about how his work and the work of Margaret Sanger were both important in liberating black people. And the right continually invokes King when you know damn well that they decried him as a communist and a threat to America while he was still alive. It’s quite appalling.
Yes, it’s true that King preached non-violence, but he was hardly some cuddly feely, can’t we all just get along, squishy moderate. He was a radical, a fierce opponent of the Vietnam War, an advocate for universal employment, a guaranteed income for everyone, and democratic socialism. Keep that in mind whenever a conservative pretends that King would really be one of them if he were still alive.