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Turning King's Dream into a Nightmare

Chris Hedges @ Truthdig - Martin Luther King Day has become a yearly ritual to turn a black radical into a red-white-and-blue icon. It has become a day to celebrate ourselves for “overcoming” racism and “fulfilling” King’s dream. It is a day filled with old sound bites about little black children and little white children that, given the state of America, would enrage King. Most of our great social reformers, once they are dead, are kidnapped by the power elite and turned into harmless props of American glory. King, after all, was not only a socialist but fiercely opposed to American militarism and acutely aware, especially at the end of his life, that racial justice without economic justice was a farce.

“King’s words have been appropriated by the people who rejected him in the 1960s,” said Professor James Cone, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York and who wrote the book “Martin & Malcolm & America.” “So by making his birthday a national holiday, everybody claims him, even though they opposed him while he was alive. They have frozen King in 1963 with his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. That is the one that can best be manipulated and misinterpreted. King also said, shortly after the Selma march and the riots in Watts, ‘They have turned my dream into a nightmare.’ ”

“Mainstream culture appeals to King’s accent on love, as if it can be separated from justice,” Cone said. “For King, justice defines love. It can’t be separated. They are intricately locked together. This is why he talked about agape love and not some sentimental love. For King, love was militant. He saw direct action and civil disobedience in the face of injustice as a political expression of love because it was healing the society. It exposed its wounds and its hurt. This accent on justice for the poor is what mainstream society wants to separate from King’s understanding of love. But for King, justice and love belong together.”

Malcolm X, whose refusal to appeal to the white ruling class makes it impossible to turn him into an establishment icon, converged with King in the last months of his life. But it would be wrong to look at this convergence as a domestication of Malcolm X. Malcolm influenced King as deeply as King influenced Malcolm. These men each grasped at the end of their lives that the face of racism comes in many forms and that the issue was not simply sitting at a lunch counter with whites—blacks in the North could in theory do this—but being able to afford the lunch. King and Malcolm were deeply informed by their faith. They adhered to a belief system, one Christian and the other Muslim, which demanded strict moral imperatives and justice. And because neither man sold out or compromised with the power elite, they were killed. Read more.

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