Monday, January 18, 2010

mourn the loss of martin luther king, jr., and celebrate his legacy

On April 4, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy broke the news of Martin Luther King's death to a largely African American crowd in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was a campaign stop during Kennedy's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Kennedy himself was killed two months later (transcript and another video below).

Ladies and Gentlemen -- I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening. Because. . . I have some -- some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.

For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization -- black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King -- yeah, that's true -- but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love -- a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke. We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people. Thank you very much.

Of course, in so many ways, MLK lives on . . .

Jay Smooth (at Ill Doctrine)
"Ten OTHER Things Martin Luther King Said"


  1. SWPD: sanitize MLK's image
    SWPD: throw MLK in my face when I bring up racism ("I'm not racist. My dad marched with MLK." "MLK wouldn't approve of reverse racism" etc)
    SWPD: Run businesses and universities that don't honor the MLK holiday

  2. SWPD: State that this is "the most overrated holiday of the year." (overheard by my sister at her office just now)

  3. 1968: What a horrible, horrible year of loss. I cannot begin to imagine the hurt so many people must have felt at the time.

    Also, SWPD: Change MLK, Jr. Day to "Civil Rights Day" in an attempt to downplay Martin Luther King Jr.'s work with a cover of "inclusiveness" (this was New Hampshire, until a couple of years ago).

  4. thesciencegirl wrote,

    SWPD: sanitize MLK's image

    Yes, "sanitize"! You just provided an ever better word for the title of one of the very first (and already retitled) swpd posts, which was also on MLK. Thanks to you, it now has another new title.

  5. SWPD: Forget that Martin Luther King, Jr., said anything other than "I have a dream..." (Which, of course, is one of the reasons why that Jay Smooth post is relevant.)

    I fervently dislike that whole RFK address. I hear him doing a lot of what white people tend to do when they discuss MLK, which is twist his use of civil disobedience into a message of complacency.

  6. thesciencegirl said:

    SWPD: sanitize MLK's image
    SWPD: throw MLK in my face when I bring up racism ("I'm not racist. My dad marched with MLK." "MLK wouldn't approve of reverse racism" etc)
    SWPD: Run businesses and universities that don't honor the MLK holiday

    This shit right here! Yes! my thoughts exactly. Some White folks do do that. I knew a white girl who was a staunch Republican and hated liberals. However, in her benefit she would use WIWL ideology to prove she was not racist. Don't get me started on how she said MLK was a conservative and would not like Barack Obama, but failed to realize that MLK did not view conservatism through a White lens and will not support the Republican party today. This person supports Rush Limbaugh and anything on FOX News and had the nerve to tell me MLK would support the Republican party today? Talk about self-serving and delusional. The Republican party today go against his rhetoric.

  7. So right after I posted this I went to check my other feeds and there, waiting for me, was this post from Racialicious.

    Just some very powerful words from Martin Luther King, Jr., that illustrate that while he may have had a dream, he was not afraid to call out ugliness and racism where he saw it. This particular selection is just the kind of quote white people like to pretend doesn't exist.

  8. So... so far on this blog I think I've picked up on people classifying WP on different levels of an arbitrary social justice scale, from Racist to Tim Wise? (I can't think of a good example of the opposite of a racist WP right now) with unaware WP, WIWL, and WP that PoC are giving a chance landing somewhere in the middle.

    With that said, I think the title of this post can mean different things for different classes of WP eh?

  9. Seen on the Racialicious post: The Negroes of America had taken the President, the press and the pulpit at their word when they spoke in broad terms of freedom and justice. But the absence of brutality and unregenerate evil is not the presence of justice. To stay murder is not the same thing as to ordain brotherhood.

    I had never heard this quote and it underlines the just how brilliant a man and orator MLK was. Required reading for any WP who thinks we live in a post-racial world.

  10. @ Jules

    They are not going to take his quote for what it is and apply it today. Most White people thought that after the civil rights act passed, racism was over lol. After Barack Obama won his presidency it sealed the deal for them lol

  11. So far I've gotten hit with the
    "I call it equality day"
    "Why isn't so-and-so's birthday a holiday?"
    "I won't celebrate his life. He was a womanizer."

    I think overall WP are doing a pretty crummy half-assed job at honoring his legacy. The quote Jules made illustrates exactly why.

  12. This is the MLK speech that WP need to read. Change 'Negro' to Black (or African-American) and update the statistics, and he could be talking about today.

    (This is the "a riot is the language of the unheard" speech, for anyone who has watched the Jay Smooth clip. But it's sooo much more than that).

    @ Izumi, that's a very good point about the post title. :) Who decides what "legacy" to celebrate?

  13. I tend to think that most White people's idea of MLK's legacy is basically "Can't we all just get along?"

    Of course, it's easier to imagine MLK as a Black Santa Claus and not "the most dangerous man in America".

  14. IzumiBayani said,

    With that said, I think the title of this post can mean different things for different classes of WP eh?

    Yes, definitely, and I hoped that this post would be sort of open-ended that way. Maybe I should've gone further by putting the word legacy in the title in quotation marks.


    Thanks for the links to those MLK quotes. That's the kind of purpose that I hoped Jay Smooth's list of MLK quotes in the video would serve. And I too hear at least one common white tendency in RFK's speech that night. It sounds like a fear of black violence. At best, that may have been a fear instead of people getting hurt?

  15. I just can't be upset at "Civil Rights Day" celebrations. MLK was not the only person who fought for justice, nor the only one who died while doing so. To honor MLK as though he was an exception and not the rule is, IMO, a way to make us all forget our own power and history. Black folks' fight for equality both pre-and-post-dates MLK. I just CAN. NOT be mad at holidays that honor the ENTIRE movement.

  16. anyone notice the weird image google has up today? looks like MLK doing a soft-shoe with...woody allen, maybe? and some WW, with a lot of folks behind them.

  17. @randy,

    Um, they're supposed to be marching, no?

    Are you attempting some sort of humor?

  18. @Tiffany

    I can somewhat agree with your statement about Civil Rights Day, but I think it depersonalizes things. If you don't have to think about civil rights as something people died trying to get and something more general, I think that makes it easier not to think about.

  19. @ Tiffany

    The major problem with calling it "Civil Rights Day" in general is that it continues a trend of erasing the achievements of individual POC from the historical record. It would also detract from the fact that the (white) U.S. has a *particular* debt to its Black population. And I have this feeling that "Black Civil Rights Day" would not go over very well. :P (Note: the white U.S. has specific debts to all the other races that should each be acknowledged in turn, not lumped together; I am not hierarchizing here)(if that's a word).

    On another note, I also worry a little that we would enshrine (have already enshrined?) civil rights as The Defining Measure of racial equality, i.e. people of all colors are allowed to use the same water fountains and vote, so There Is No More Racism.

    @ Macon

    >> "Maybe I should've gone further by putting the word legacy in the title in quotation marks"

    How about, instead of 'celebrate his legacy,' have it be 'shape his legacy' or 're/create his legacy'? Because that's really what goes on.

  20. @macon:
    Maybe you should leave legacy as is, and put "celebrate" in quotes.

  21. @tiffany:
    I can respect that. But personally, I'm still annoyed that they folded Washington and Lincoln's birthdays into one holiday, "President's Day." Those guys were kind of key. I'm not interested in celebrating Nixon, not even by grammatical accident.

    "I won't celebrate his life. He was a womanizer."
    My gast is flabbered. I seriously thought about it for 4 full minutes, and I still don't even know where to begin on that. That? Is a stunner.

    From Racialicous: "A good many observers have remarked that if equality could come at once the Negro would not be ready for it. I submit that the white American is even more unprepared."

  22. Ah. Cameal and Willow got there before me.
    (Gotta read 'em all before posting!)

  23. I just came back from a MLK rally downtown that was about 99% WP. I can't say what they were all thinking, but it all felt kinda like WIWL fetishization of the man to me. Like by "celebrating" MLK day and dropping Barak Obama's name a bunch during the speeches then we could all feel good about ourselves that racism is over. [my tongue in my cheek] No one used the word "priveledge", no one mentioned on-going police brutality... they did however sing "We Shall Overcome!"

    I doubt there would be such self-congradulatory turnout at a rally honoring Malcom X or Fred Hampton.

    Gee, I just feeling pretty cynical right now. Anyone hear Democracy Now! this morning? At least that was truely honoring of the man.

  24. @ karinova

    My gast is flabbered. I seriously thought about it for 4 full minutes, and I still don't even know where to begin on that. That? Is a stunner.

    Tell me about it. We all just turned to look at the girl blankly and then my "What in the blue hell?" broke the silence. And then the professor laid into her. My professor had actually marched with and met Rev. Dr. King. She quietly picked up and left after that. Nice.

  25. Just because the day is titled MLKJr Day doesn't mean that other people couldn't be honored as well. You don't need to call the day "Civil Rights Day". After all, MLKJr became the leader of people who were already on the way - in Montgomery: Rosa Parks; the group of woman teachers at the black teachers' college who, after hearing about Parks, got together that evening to arrange and publicize strike meetings (and when the boycott started, ran the carpooling/taxi service to get boycotters to work); and many more. In my mind, it doesn't diminish MLKJr to also honor the rest of the Movement participants.

  26. Hold on. Macon, why is the content of this post exactly the same as last year's?

    I find it disrespectful that you just recycled the same video and speech from last year -- about which nobody had anything to say -- for a lackluster thread this year. (C'mon, this conversation is dead.) Why bother? If this is the best you can do, let's be real. This is not celebrating anything.

  27. Disrespectful? Why? Don't some things bear repeating?

    I thought I'd try it again (rearranged a bit) because this blog has many readers now who apparently weren't here then. If I'm still doing this blog next year, I promise to take the comments in this thread into account if I do something again to somehow mark white folks and MLK again. And yeah, I also promise not to post these two videos again.

  28. Ha-ha! Busted, macon d. This is like when white feminists only know one black feminist, Audre Lorde of course, and only know one quote from Lorde, something about the master's tools and the master's house...mumble, mumble.

  29. An unsuccessful post is hardly one of those things that bears repeating, and changing which of two videos goes first is a pretty pathetic attempt at "rearranging".

    I also promise not to post these two videos again.

    I'm not talking about the worth of the videos themselves, although for the record, I do think the RFK one was a waste of time. (How about making the effort to find something insightful or joyous, rather than something that just pays lip service to what white people wish MLK had been about?)

    I did not ask for promises, and from where I'm standing, your promises are just coming across as an attempt to get me to shut up and go away.

  30. My apologies, Zara. Yes, I can see now that a better post would have included "something insightful or joyous, rather than something that just pays lip service to what white people wish MLK had been about" (but then, come now, that's not what Jay Smooth's quotes are about, not most of them anyway, which is why I included them). And for what it's worth, I definitely don't want you to shut up and go away.

  31. macon,
    was that an apology or apologetics? To be honest, it sounds more like the latter than the former to me, and I wouldn't be surprised if Zara still feels like you just want her to be quiet already...

  32. Yes Julia, in the cold light of morning, I can see that attempt to apologize deserves another apology.

    Let's see . . .

    "My interpretation of the situation is correct"? (I think it's at least partially that one.)

    "I didn't mean it that way"?

    "I didn't express myself well"?

    I'll try again:

    I am simply sorry, Zara.

  33. Nice test drive of the Bingo card, macon!

    I'm still working with it myself.

    I'm not sure about his apology -- is that adequate? Is that all a WP should say by way of apology? Couldn't it seem to be lacking in remorse? It is after all pretty easy to say . . . especially online, where facial expression, body language and so on can't accompany it. If there's more to be said there, what else should be said?

  34. FWIW, I think it's disrespectful because it shows a complete lack of effort. Not only is it a reposted blog, but the post contains no analysis or commentary on the videos you provided. Even a link roundup of some of the other great MLK posts around the web would have added to it. And I have to say, given the focus of this blog, you missed a great opportunity to talk about some truly irritating (to me and a lot of black people I know) habits of white people with regards to how they remember and celebrate MLK. Just as an aside -- I hope you delve into that next year b/c it's really a perfect example of WP paying lip service to anti-racism, to black heroism, etc. in very shallow and often trivializing ways.

    And yeah, whatever, you're not perfect Macon. None of us is. And as far as mistakes go, this one is hardly egregious. But in light of the recent post on apologies, your response to Zara wasn't an apology at all. It came across as quite dismissive.

  35. AE, There's always karinova's brilliant apology formula from the apologetics thread:

    "Ideally, it should take ONE SENTENCE. In this exact order: 1) specifically state the error; 2) express your remorse, simply; and then 3) stfu so the other person can consider whether to accept or reject. If you did it right, they'll accept. Example: "When I said XYZ, I invoked a hurtful stereotype, and I am really sorry."

    considering all the conversation that's gone on about this recently, i'm giving you a C- for your second effort. an A apology in my book would acknowledge EFFECT [i.e., on Zara) and not engage in making fun of own WP foibles, which is I think, just another version of White Apologetics.

  36. Here's another "Obviouswoman" post.

    I didn't know that "Eyes on the Prize" tv documentary had been made available again for broadcast and DVD sale, until I ran into a copy on my public library's shelves. I thought EOTP was in copyright hell still.

    The archival video clips in EOTP are astounding. I have seen plenty of still images in histories, but the impact of the film clips - wow.

    (Note: I am pretty uninformed about film and broadcast.)

  37. My university never cancels classes for MLK day (they usually have a prayer service no one can attend, since it's at the same time as many classes), yet guess who's coming to speak next week? Tim Wise.

    This is one of those "Oh White people..." moments.

    PS. If anyone wants info on the Tim Wise talk, please click my profile and shoot me an email.

  38. @Jasmin, he spoke at my university's MLK day last year, and he was AWESOME.


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