Martin Luther King, we selectively disagree

By Mel Reeves

Folks of late were disturbed by the misguided fella Brett Reese who — yes, ironically — is on the board of education in Greely, Colorado. Reese created an uproar when he used his radio program to smear MLK by calling him names.

It won’t work — King’s place in history is secure. No amount of revisionism or name-calling can change the historical record. But Reese is not alone; others, especially Black folks, have a problem with King as well. They just aren’t as honest.

However, some of his detractors are more subtle. They don’t really agree with the “nonviolent” revolutionary, as some have called him, but they will pick a Martin quote here or there that fits their agenda. Corporations do it; the twin bourgeois parties of the ruling rich (Democrats/Republicans) do it; even some of the far right wing claim that King supports some of their theories.

This year there will be hundreds of speakers at “sanctioned” MLK events all over the country lauding King’s praises and yet vehemently disagreeing with him. Just as the writer who wrote a Black Voices article to defend King entitled “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Hero, visionary and sexual degenerate?” said she opposed “many of his views,” so do many Black folks, especially middle- and upper-class Blacks.

Like the writer, many agreed with and like his efforts to advance Black progress, his efforts to end segregation, and thus his efforts that aided Blacks, especially middle-class Blacks, to advance into the American mainstream.
And that’s where the love fest ends.

While King condemned and called for the “restructuring” of this unjust and biased socioeconomic-political “edifice,” an edifice which according to him produced beggars, yet we can’t get enough of it and its material comforts. Blood diamonds from the Motherland? We couldn’t be concerned — just give us our “bling bling”!
Conflict minerals from the Congo? Pass me my laptop, give me my cell phone and my MP3 player. “Them Africans are on their own, they ain’t got nothing to do with me!

And unlike King, many don’t really like poor folks; otherwise we would raise our voices against the continued mistreatment of those in our ghettos and inner cities. But too often we find ourselves turning our nose up at them, just like the other folks, even though we know the true nature of what really ails them.

Martin King loved the poor. He died fighting for the poor. It was his organization that organized the first Poor People’s March.

We don’t like other folks. Like too many of our fellow citizens, we have the temerity to not like Islamic folks. Some even have the nerve to denounce immigrants when it wasn’t that long ago that we alone were the objects of scorn from many of these same fellow Americans.

Yet King preached universal brotherhood and love. “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity,” admonished King.

Black folks who have historically been opposed to U.S. militarism have suddenly gone silent. It appears we have sacrificed our young men and women for trinkets, promises of education and material well-being.

What a sick trade-off! I will kill for you if you pay for my college education or promise me professional success. And of course, some sign up to kill for less, adhering to a misguided and narrow patriotism. Yet Martin was murdered a year to the day he gave his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, in which he condemned the Vietnam War along with the evils of militarism, materialism and racism.

While MLK led protest after protest that tore down the walls of de jure segregation in the South and de facto segregation and discrimination in the North, you can sometimes hear Black middle-class folks vehemently scorning and disdaining protest. Imagine that, denouncing protest, the very thing that got these middle-class folks to where they are today.

Although they are partly right — protest alone didn’t get the job done — only a dishonest fool would deny the effectiveness of protest, even today. Even the Black church that birthed much of the struggle denies MLK today by failing to involve itself in social justice, even in the face of the overwhelming needs of Black folks, especially poor Black folks.

“Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial,” preached King.

Moreover, Martin King would have condemned American Christianity’s silence on the unjust wars being waged by this country, and yes, he would have condemned them even if Obama or any other nappy- or curly-haired Black person were in office. “To speak of God and remain silent on Vietnam [insert Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan] is blasphemous,” said the prophet.

Unfortunately, we honor MLK with our lips and not our lives. In fact, while we may not call him names, in some ways we are just as relieved as his enemies that he is dead because he is not around to bother us, to cajole us, to morally persuade us or remind us that we have taken the wrong path.

Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to