Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Already Showed Us How To Be An Anti-Racist.
By: Brittany Talissa King
It’s been eight years since the first #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was tweeted after George Zimmerman’s acquittal. And four years since Donald Trump coined the phrase, “Make America Great Again.” And in 2020, these two mantras historically clashed in the midst of one of our deadliest years. Where the coronavirus not only affected millions of lives but took over 400,000 Americans. Then after George Floyd’s death (one of the most merciless recorded incidents of police-brutality since Rodney King), protests showered the globe where millions chanted “Black Lives Matter” — -taking over the streets and internet. And as these demonstrations grew in America, another movement voiced their narrative with Trump-Train rallies, “Keep America Great” events, and #BlueLivesMatter hashtags — -both causing a novel collusion even during a pandemic.
But for decades, there have historically been two POVs at odds with how America should be. And the 21st-century versions of these polarizing ends — -became dangerously close to rivaling the racial violence from the ’50s and ’60s. The most overt examples were over this summer, where peaceful protests were overshadowed by riots. Where supporters of the 45th president countered-protested justice demonstrations. And anti-president supporters intimidated “Patriots” for backing the police. Where a vigilante shot two Los Angeles officers in their police car, and a “traditionalist” teenager murdered two “progressive” men in Kenosha. And then, in January, where a vicious mob invaded the U.S. Capitol building in revenge of a “stolen election.”
And depending on your stance, one might see the Portland riots as the language of the unheard, or terrorists destroying the nation. In the same vein, one might view the Capitol invasion as “patriotic,” while others view it as the highest form of American treason. One POV believes America needs to atone for its racial sins. The other thinks America has “always been great.” And this, quite obviously, reveals that two stark realities are dividing the United States.
Before I move forward, it will be unproductive to continue with a possible misunderstanding that I’m trying to further polarize these sides. That I aim to saturate the binary line separating the “Left” and “Right” or Black people and White people. On the contrary, that is not the purpose of this piece at all.
The point I’m going to attempt to make is, these two lenses hovering the nation believe their perception is The American Reality — -and that the opposing side is merely fighting a truth that’s inconvenient to their beliefs. And the irony here is, both sides are accurate from their POV, but both are not right. And solving the case on who’s wrong is not conducive for this piece. The function of this prose is to uncover our common adversary. Of course, there are many layers to this complex divisiveness, but I will utilize my time to focus on the most obvious — -Race.
Historians say racial categories weren’t officially established until 1790 by European Spaniards. Though, this group first considered constructing a hierarchy based on their ethnicity. But there was one huge problem; since other people with different ethnicities looked identical to them — they recognized any group could homogenize as “Spaniard” to acquire “control.” They understood by ignoring color, could inadvertently dismantle their entire supremacy. But, the one thing neither of these groups could do was lie about their pigment. Therefore, they created the superficial system of Race, which doesn’t care about who you are, but what you look like.
And in America, we have consistently battled a moral conflict inside our shallow Race problem. Some underground railroaded from it, while others Rebelled against its constructors. Then in 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed it from enslaving Black people. And then a century later, the Civil Rights activists and other Black movements, challenged Jim Crow and historically achieved voting and civil rights laws. All legislation implemented to malfunction America’s racial hierarchy from ranking people based on their skin — — though, this color construction still exists.
One way to organize this polarizing problem, is to center it around a depolarizing figure. And as I look through history, one person who defiantly challenged America, who unabashedly fought for a mission, but whose mission was a bi-partisan vision for the nation — -was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And like mathematics, the major factor this contemporary movement has in common with Dr. King, is the fight for an Anti-Racist America. But, the major difference here is, how these two eras define “anti-racism.” And how each organized to achieve this goal from their POV.
And when objectively looking at each group’s methods: one double-downs on racial categories, and its elder aimed to gut them out.
Let’s first focused on the Civil Rights Movement. Their demonstrations pointed out how arbitrary Race was — — as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. vehemently stressed, he wanted to be “judge on the content of his character,” not the composition of his skin color.
The odd thing about the mainstream movement is, it does not unbind Americans from the bias of Race — -but anchors people further down to it.
And the leader at the helm of this present-day “anti-racist” movement, also affiliated with Boston University like Dr. King Jr, is How To Be An Anti-Racist professor, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. With the addition of another professor, who’s White Fragility book has controversially stayed on the NYT best-seller list for over 100 weeks, Dr. Robin Di’Angelo.
Their ideas have categorized Americans into “the racists” and “the anti-racists” — — “bad people” and “good people.” Not to say, “racists aren’t bad people,” but to confront why these educators get to dictate who’s “racist” based upon their opinions. And what their work has done is created another racial hierarchy that incentivizes their followers not to just strive for being anti-racist, but to show how “anti-racist” can you get.
And before we move forward, I get it. Some might be asking right now, “Why aren’t you focused on racists public figures who want division?” My answer to that would be, “Have you read a Letter from a Birmingham Jail?” In 1963, Dr. King Jr. famously wrote a letter venting out his “pent-up frustrations” about allies who claimed to be “on his side,” — — who he referred to as “ white moderates.” He called-out their behaviors as “stumbling blocks to the strive toward freedom.” When he was inside that jail-cell, he did not use up his time to focus on the “KKK, or White Citizens Counselors” because these groups weren’t inside his camp, next to his plans, and inadvertently harming Black Americans.
So that’s why my focus is on “stumbling blocks” who probably mean well. Even if their actions are well-intended — -if the deeds are injurious, it’s not just necessary to call-it-out, it’s an obligation. The point is not to bash these individuals, it’s to merely point out the fragile foundations inside their abstract moral regulations. And how their rules demand society to be unflawed, while even they fall short of their own works.
For instance, Dr. Di’Angelo stated in her book, “White people are the beneficiaries of that separation and inequality, as a result, we are insulated from racial stress at the same time we come to feel entitled to deserving of our advantage.” But in 2020, she accepted a seminar pay-out of 12,500 dollars while her Black counterparts, the racial group she claims are at the disadvantage of her advantage, received a paycheck 70% less than her.
And then Dr. Kendi, who prophesies, “A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.” Later targeted Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett using her Haitian children to showcase racial tolerance tweeting, “Some White colonizers ‘adopted’ Black children. They ‘civilized’ these ‘savage’ children in the ‘superior’ ways of White people, while using them as props in their lifelong pictures of denial, while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity.” And yes, this can apply to people who purposely do this. But generalizing a whole racial group off an assumption of someone inside that racial group is the antithesis of Kendi’s anti-racist ideas.
And because their philosophies have set unattainable guidelines, — -a section of the whole movement has grown an unhealthy relationship with “progression” and instead expects perfection. And if any iota of racism appears, then “nobody is safe,” and “nobody is free.” The facts are simple, racism cannot be jettisoned from the Earth. No legislation can mandate it from America. As James Baldwin stated, “This fight [against racism] begins in the heart.” Racism survives inside an empty void. And that’s not to say, we shouldn’t strive to become less racist — but to hinge our moral fate on “ending racism” will be a guaranteed lost war.
Now don’t get me wrong, successful protests are why I can vote, why I have civil rights, and why I can write today. But unlike the lunch-counter sit-ins, the bus boycotts, the March on Washington, and the Freedom rides — — a chunk of the mainstream movement has mass-produced a plethora of easy ways to advocate for zero risks. Because their motivation is not necessarily focused on combating racism. It’s about investing in one’s image to portray a “non-racist.” To become an ambassador of a haughty moral binary that sections even the good-doers into “the righteous and the wicked,” “the rights and the wrongs,” “the saviors and the helpless .”
My criticism does not come from the outskirts looking-in, but from a former organizer who joined with hundreds to fight against a clear issue: police brutality. While amplifying a declarative statement that I believe in, “Black Lives Matter.” A BLMC chapter I started in Mike Pence’s hometown during the first year Donald Trump was president. The same week Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered in 2016. A time when attending a BLM demonstration would malign someone’s reputation. But now, joining a protest is socially expected. A time where racism’s ugly face smiled at me a lot. Where a self-proclaimed white supremacist drew my face into a racist caricature, with bug-eyes, big red-lips, with a noose around my neck writing alongside it, “lynch yourself n — ger — black lives don’t matter.” So my analysis on “anti-racism” is not because there’s nothing to fight for, it’s because the mainstream’s new take adds to the problem, which is bad enough.
And as I revisit history like the Montgomery bus boycotts and The Poor People’s Campaign — -there’s a stark difference between popular anti-racism and the historical version. And no extra time was spent on critical theories on Race, or forcing non-blacks to hold their fists up — — like in Washington D.C. and Portland. Where new-aged “anti-racists” harassed diners to say that Black people matter, to prove “They were not white supremacists,” under the guise of “fighting for justice.” And the irony here is, most of those “anti-racists” were White. So, if their honest intent were to uplift the Black community, they’d understand their behavior nationally stigmatized the Black lives they claim matters to them.
And yes, some might be saying, “To bring up non-violence in this context is an antiquated outlook for 2021.” Or, this could be the part when the audience chants, “Brittany King is the niece to Uncle Tom!” Well, Uncle Tom was murdered for refusing to snitch-out two enslaved people. Tom, in fact, believed “Black Lives Matter.” So in that case, in the words of Erik Killmonger, “Hey, Uncle.”
But contrary to one’s belief, the Civil Rights activists weren’t born with a natural ability to love against evil. That rebellion was a learned strategy curated through faith, objective-planning, and critical thinking. And that’s one of the most inspirational parts about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (which I believe Americans don’t use quite enough), — -the mind.
In 1955, the same year Rosa Parks was arrested on that bus in Montgomery, King gave a Sunday sermon expressing, “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
Which is to say, conflicts easily ensue in American society because most people don’t employ their minds effectively, because most minds are not muscular or “sharp enough” to “breakthrough myths and sift [through] the true from the false.” And that the lack of a “tough-mind,” is why Americans so easily succumb to rivaling against the opposition, then objectively evaluating why there is an opposition.
And this process is how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. developed the non-violent strategy and made sense of it all. He analyzed the schemes of his “enemies” and understood their qualms were fueled through an immoral ignorance which ultimately harmed them as well. So, when Dr. King Jr said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only love can do that,” — that was not just a poetic sentiment, that was one method to deactivate a bomb.
Frankly, Dr. King Jr. was morally mature. He knew this land was his land, but this land was not only his land. He knew, “understanding” someone doesn’t signify a weakness, or even okays their evildoing. King never apologized for his criticisms of America, “We must not consider it unpatriotic to raise certain basic questions about our national character.” Though, he stayed a rebellious lover of the country. Eager for America to become less racially shallow about color, and more curious about who we are underneath it. That’s what we need now. That’s what we should strive for.
That’s how to be an anti-racist.