Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. day! This is a wonderful occasion to reflect on the subversive legacy of a man who gave his life to bend the arc of the moral universe faster; it is a day of service, and there’s no public service quite like showing your ass. To wit, here’s Joe Walsh—failed Illinois politician and former congressman who successfully glommed onto the Tea Party after he couldn’t hack it as a moderate—tweeting about how MLK, Jr. would have supported the entirely fake “All Lives Matter” movement.
Uh-huh, say more?
Okay! Jamil Smith has a wonderful piece at the New Republic right now about this wild misappropriation—how “King [is] positioned in holiday specials and commemorations as some kind of racial Santa Claus, and his birthday presented as the one day on our calendar designated for us to indulge in this kind of blind hope for racial justice.”
This blurring of history...has opened the possibility for King to be viewed as some Christ-like savior for black America. Such framing implies that we need a sole leader to guide us, and it helps actual enemies of his goals say that they, too, were with King all the way. It allows those enemies to then insist that unless a black civil rights activist behaves like the King that they’ve conjured in their selective memories, then that activist isn’t truly pro-civil rights.
All the while, Republicans tweet out flowery statements on MLK Day and even insist that King was one of them, ignoring that the GOP is a different party today than it was then and that King would likely oppose their policies fervently. It’s nearly as annoying to see white politicians on the left proclaim their allegiance to King—and sometimes, their presence at one of his marches—as a substitute for substantive racial justice platforms.
King’s employment as a contemporary racial status symbol is both talisman and shield for a more self-interested agenda that serves to either actively regress the reverend’s work or disregard its complexities.
Case in point:
No one has ever said All Lives Matter who’s not (at best) misguided and (almost always) a piece of shit. It’s the slogan equivalent of interrupting a funeral to talk about an extremely disturbing dream you had—a dream in which Martin Luther King, Jr. existed and then he was assassinated and then almost a half-century later we still lived in a time when it was possible to say “All Lives Matter” as if you were saying something good. In the above piece, Smith wrote: “As long as King’s radicalism stays missing from our remembrances, it will be easier for people to lay claim to his story—even people who oppose everything King actually stood for.” Easier and easier, indeed.
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Image via AP