Politics & Race
Martin Luther King Ain’t No Punk – How We Whitewashed a Revolutionary

Today Americans everywhere will celebrate the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. and the holiday bearing his name. As one of only three federal holidays named after an individual (Washington and Columbus are the other two), MLK Day honors the achievements of one of the greatest and most inspiring Americans. But the legacy of Dr. King has also become as historically hazy as Christopher Columbus’ genocide of the Caribbean natives (He never set foot on American Soil) or George Washington’s cherry tree chopping.

You will often hear bullshitting novices of African American history and poseurs touting themselves to be radicals trying to convince you they are “more Malcolm than Martin.” While both men were revolutionaries, it does an injustice to the efforts to which they gave their lives when we try to contrast their legacies as opposing. Even more despicable is the long list of “leaders” trying to seat themselves on the empty throne of MLK and insert themselves into the lineage of freedom fighters. When King died, he was an enemy of the government, the status quo and the American public at large. All the leftover charlatans and race-baiters trying to sidle next to his history are simply second-string opportunists seeking to pimp King’s courage for profit. King wouldn’t have held a seat in the government or sat on set tap-dancing for corporate media because he was too radical to care about popularity.

Even after both the monumental Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, were signed into law, King was seen as a troublemaking pariah. In a 1966 Gallup Poll, the trusted polling institution showed King with a 32% positive rating and a 68% negative rating among Americans. By comparison, that’s lower than Nixon after Watergate or George W. Bush after Iraq. By the time he was assassinated, King was viewed as an anti-establishment incendiary railing against the war, capitalism and the same government that now takes a day off in his honor.

Then they whitewashed him.

Lets be clear — the blemishes of all men are airbrushed by history. Whenever the majority embraces someone’s post-mortem memory and hoists them on their shoulders as a game-changing hero, you can bet that person was kicking their ass while they were here. Let us not forget that Martin Luther King kept a red-hot branding iron perpetually in the flame and poked at America’s ass every chance he got.

Martin Luther King wasn’t no punk.

History has so diluted King’s advocacy of nonviolence resistance until it has simply morphed over time into “non-violence.” When you want to turn a man into a martyr and a saint it is necessary for you to discard the one fact that made him an epic leader and one of the greatest men in the history of this country:

He resisted like a motherfucker.

They will show footage of the March on Washington and barely mention that he shut down the garbage and transportation systems of major American cities. They’ll mention him dreaming about little Black boys and little White girls playing together but forget to remind you how he talked about a massive redistribution of wealth and resources. How he he created a tent city in the Mall on Washington to combat poverty. How he stood at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and shamed America about Vietnam. How he knew people wanted to kill him but stood on stage anyway. How the Federal Bureau of Investigation surveilled him and blackmailed him for years. How he defied local law enforcement and tear gas and guns and dogs and batons and bullets and bombs.

Nah. They want you to think he just marched, held hands and sang freedom songs.

And it worked too.

Because when the new generation of resistors “protest” the murder of the next Black boy they will invoke the name and legacy of Martin Luther King and then not do shit. They’ll have a die-in in designated areas until the police tell them they can go home. They will quietly hold hand-drawn signs until they are reminded of the militarily-invoked curfew. Of course Black Lives Matter — until dusk, or chaos, or whenever it gets scary.

You will be told a lot about Martin Luther King today, but don’t let any of it fool you. You can embrace the warm and fuzzy negro fairy tale of the Baptist preacher who changed America with peace, love and a few-sermons-like speeches, or you can see the truth:

Once there was a man who was so focused on justice and equality that he woke up the masses and screamed truth into America’s ear every chance he got.

And when they told him they’d punch him in the face, he kept screaming.
And when they told him they’d put him in jail, he kept screaming.
And when they told him they’d kill him, he kept screaming.

Because he wasn’t no punk.

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

Related Posts