It’s a powerful moment when you first start reading and hearing speeches from Martin Luther King Jr as he evolved past the “I have a dream” icon and into the more “Poor People’s Campaign” economic and political power redistribution radical. When you start reading about how the majority of white people hated MLK Jr. and it was only after he was dead and he ceased to be a threat to white supremacy did white people start liking him.
But not the real radical version of him who admitted that his dream (of sharing this country with white people equally) in many ways “turned into a nightmare”. But the white washed history version of him who still believed love could break white supremacy. I think it was intentional that this was the only version of MLK Jr that everyone learned about growing up, which taught white people that all we needed for equality was love, not reparations, not the understanding of systemic racism and white privilege, not economic and political power restructuring, not justice…just love.
But just like how white supremacists twisted the bible to justify slavery I think they twisted MLK jrs story to justify/hide today’s white supremacy. If you were only taught his “I have a dream” speech you would think his dream had come true by now. But if you listen to his later speeches you can really understand the true realities of this country and how far we really are from that dream.
I think if white people really want to honor MLK jr we could do what the majority of white people never did for MLK jr. while he was alive. That is to support the civil rights activists alive today. This could be things like participating in a Black Lives Matter (BLM) rally, donating money to BLM, or confronting false narratives of BLM in our white circles. But it could also be by not being as MLK jr wrote,
“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 can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom””
and take not one but many anti-racism workshops, embrace the uncomfortable white fragility we all have and start to recognize and challenge our white privilege, make dismantling systemic racism a leading issue when deciding how to vote, or simply believe a person of color when they are trying to describe their experience with things like police brutality, which doesn’t match up with the narrative we were taught.
I’d like to think MLK jr would appreciate that more than reposting one of his quotes.
Martin Luther King Jr.: “My dream has turned into a nightmare”