According to activist and online pundit Ibram X Kendi, Dr. Martin Luther King would have supported all of the inclusive and representation initiatives including Critical Race Theory popular today.
From the Grio article 7 inconvenient truths white people must understand about Martin Luther King Jr, white people, including old school liberals and even conservatives, often misquote or only partially quote Dr. King, ignoring his full statement and context.
Yes, I’m saying this on Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King has been considered a “safe” black person of fame to quote for whites because it makes it seem as if there are no barriers or hurdles between whites and people of color, or at least none that Dr. King acknowledged. Apparently, that’s far from the truth.
From the above cited article:
“I’ve heard too many other white Americans, especially conservative cable news commentators, twist King’s words in this way. What they and similarly misinformed others fail to realize is that King was one of our nation’s most courageous and consistent defenders of Black lives. I often urge people to read A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. Doing so could help people more accurately understand King’s specific stance on the value of Black lives.
The article, written by Shaun R. Harper, “a Provost Professor in the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California” and “founder and executive director of the USC Race and Equity Center” ends with:
I want (Nancy) Mace and other whites to read more of King’s writings, listen to more of his sermons, and reflect deeply on what it is he would call on them to do in these times. Perhaps they’ll subsequently stop conveniently and dishonestly misquoting him.
From the City Heights Community Development website and the article 5 MLK Quotes Too Radical To White-Wash comes further context.
“The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and racism. The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power”. —King to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) board on March 30, 1967.
Doesn’t sound like the Dr. King most white people think about.
Texas A&M Today published What Martin Luther King Jr. Said About Systemic Racism We don’t often think of that more modern term as associated with Dr. King. He is quoted as saying:
“Justice for black people will not flow into this society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory…White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society,”
The Seattle Times published Dear white conservatives: Here’s what else Dr. King said.
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a … mass effort to re-educate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
That last quote could apply just as easily to the white liberals of King’s day or even in the 2020s. Whites who are willing to march and write articles but not to initiate the changes in themselves and their environment that they believe Dr. King and Ibram X Kendi relative to systemic racism and anti-racism.
So besides reading more of Dr. King’s works and gaining a more historically accurate picture of the man, what should we do? I mean if we are people of good conscience and truly support equality and justice for people of color, where is the path? Is there a path (and that last question is an excellent question)?
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture has what I consider a really comprehensive article on what it is to be an anti-racist. I don’t know if Dr. King would have supported it or not, but the various activists and such seem to think he would.
You can read the article Being Antiracist at your leisure and come to your own conclusions about what it suggests.
There are a few key points that I’d like to highlight, though.
Race does not biologically exist, yet how we identify with race is so powerful, it influences our experiences and shapes our lives. In a society that privileges white people and whiteness, racist ideas are considered normal throughout our media, culture, social systems, and institutions. Historically, racist views justified the unfair treatment and oppression of people of color (including enslavement, segregation, internment, etc.). We can be led to believe that racism is only about individual mindsets and actions, yet racist policies also contribute to our polarization. While individual choices are damaging, racist ideas in policy have a wide-spread impact by threatening the equity of our systems and the fairness of our institutions. To create an equal society, we must commit to making unbiased choices and being antiracist in all aspects of our lives.
That may have taken a few of you by surprise, especially the “Race does not biologically exist” part.
No one is born racist or antiracist; these result from the choices we make. Being antiracist results from a conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily. These choices require ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through life. In the absence of making antiracist choices, we (un)consciously uphold aspects of white supremacy, white-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society. Being racist or antiracist is not about who you are; it is about what you do.
So basically in order to be racist and a white supremacist, all you really have to do is hold unconscious attitudes, that is, attitudes that you yourself have no conscious awareness of. Also, to quote Ibram Kendi:
To be antiracist is a radical choice in the face of history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.
When we choose to be antiracist, we become actively conscious about race and racism and take actions to end racial inequities in our daily lives. Being antiracist is believing that racism is everyone’s problem, and we all have a role to play in stopping it.
This is the key point of the antiracism position. Everything is about race and in order to be antiracist, we must continuously be thinking about and considering race in every word, action, or situation we may find ourselves in.
Being antiracist is different for white people than it is for people of color. For white people, being antiracist evolves with their racial identity development. They must acknowledge and understand their privilege, work to change their internalized racism, and interrupt racism when they see it.
In essence the onus of being antiracist is on white people.
All racial groups struggle under white supremacy. People of color groups are not always united in solidarity. People of color can act by challenging internalized white supremacy and interrupting patterns of prejudice against other racial groups. For everyone, it is an ongoing practice and process.
Any issues that different groups have with each other, such as the recent series of attacks on Asians by black people, is ultimately the fault of whites and white supremacy (and remember that we all have unconscious attitudes of white supremacy). This denies that people have any personal responsibility for their actions if they’re continuously under the influence of “white supremacy.”
Now let’s get back to Dr. King and the day we use to honor his legacy. How would he have viewed all of this? I have no idea and from my perspective, there’s no way to tell.
However, from the viewpoint of modern activists, Dr. King would have totally agreed with all of these statements, and we who would quote (or misquote) Dr. King on this day, if we really want to honor King, have a decision to make.
- We can choose to believe Kendi and embrace the antiracist manifesto and all that it contains.
- We can continue to (mis)quote Dr. King because it seems to be an easier path.
- We can choose to read more closely the writings and teachings of Dr. King on this day in order to honor him.
- We can choose to not accept any of it and resolve to not (mis)quote Dr. King as a way to honor him by not distorting his legacy.
- We can decide, as Christians (or Messianics or whatever) to return to the Bible, to the Almighty, and to our own conscience and determine what our next steps should be as white believers in 21st century America.
From my point of view, this would be an excellent opportunity to actually read Dr. King’s writings rather than just a few convenient quotes. Maybe we’ll let it go at that, but at the end of the day, we may know more about the man than we did before.
It may also teach us something about whether or not “Antiracism” is something that is a viable option for us as individuals, for our families, communities, and the nation…or not.
Who knows, maybe Jesus would have been antiracist as well. I’m sure someone out there believes that.
On the other hand, there are those who believe Jesus was gay, which is not supportable in the Biblical text.
No matter how many professors write books such as Kendi’s upcoming How to Be a (Young) Antiracist (everybody’s selling a book), these sorts of publications come and go. Maybe this one will stick around. But no matter what, we must still measure that book and these ideas against the Word of God, the Bible. It’s not always easy for a variety of reasons but consider this.
To be a believer means to become attached to a set of timeless truths that don’t shift with the whims of social or societal dictates. I won’t tell you if any of the above does or doesn’t map with the Bible. That’s a decision for you to make as an individual.
What I am saying, at least for me, is that I will not be quoting from Dr. King now or in the future.
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise;
When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. –Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)
For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires… –2 Timothy 4:3 (NASB)