As we approach a significant benchmark in the celebration
of the King holiday, its 20th Anniversary, we should pay special
attention to what King really stood for and how he's been "commercialized"
in his afterlife. Signed into law in November of 1983, the first
official "legal" holiday (off day) was Monday, January
20, 1986. King tried to bring America together via the politics
of moral suasion - adherence to not only what is right, but what
is just, justice being the standard for all that is right (not
the other way around). What some think is right isn't always just,
but what is just is always right. King understood that - America
didn't, and 38 years after his death, 20 years of celebrating
the message of America's Prince of Peace, leader of the non-violent
social revolution whose life ended so violently, we are still
grappling with issues of social injustice and economic inequality.
And we're still waiting to get to "the promised land"
that King prophesized we would reach without him ("I might
not get there with you…"). King forecasted that the resistance
to social change in America might outlast his life span. But not
even King could have forecasted that such resistance would outlast
The legacy of King has become so twisted that more
white Republican conservatives spout "I Have Dream"
and "We Must Be Judged, Not By The Color of Our Skin But,
By The Content of Our Character" than socially conscious
African Americans seeking to realize the achievement of King's
"Promised Land." King "reasoning" has become
King "rhetoric" as hostile forces use King's name, likeness,
intellect and legacy to shift the social construct toward race
neutrality and away from social justice. By using "King-isms"
to deflect the same arguments for racial and social equality King
made in his last two books, Why We Can't Wait and Where
Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (two books I read
during every King week to not get caught up in all the "dream
talk"), America was able to stop King's revolution of conscience
right in its tracks. They took our focus off achieving equality,
or reaching a "promised land," and put it on celebrating
a holiday - in rhetorical ways that suggest that they too believe
in King's "dream" of a colorblind society. Yet, colorblindness
has become a barrier to discussion about what made the King phenomenon:
racial inequality and social injustice. The desire to be a "colorblind
society" called a halt to the discourse on race in America.
Without being able to talk about race, you can’t talk about racial
disparities, thus you can’t address racial inequities. But, we
all profess to believe in the doctrine of King. Not really.
King is taken no more seriously in death than he
was taken when he was alive. Even today, only half of America
takes the day off for the King holiday - a truer testament to
what they really believe, and a more telling insight to what African
Americans let others believe about how King shook the foundations
of race discourse in this nation. We've all, both Blacks and Whites
(and everything in between) become consciously ignorant about
the King legacy and what it stood for.
King spent the last years of his life, as did Malcolm,
constructing an intellectual basis through which future generations
would interpret his mission and his messages. He was not ignorant
to the fact that if he, himself, did not craft the meaning of
his life and his work, it would be left to historical revisionists
to tell and it would be a whole lot different than he intended.
Great men understand that they can never leave it to history to
tell their story - that they must tell their own story. When you
read the two aforementioned books, you quickly recognize what
King was doing. Both books are rare, and extremely hard to find
- even in reprint - but you can find all kind of "dream"
books that romanticize both King and his message.
King didn't talk about any dreams in the last years of his life.
He talked about realities, and the principal question of equality
and social justice ever coming about in America because of the
ignorance of the (black and white) masses and the stupidity of
the racially twisted ideas of supremacist ideology in circles
of power throughout the institutions and social systems of America.
He recognized the danger in trying to bring about a revolution
of conscience in America, and resigned himself to America not
getting where it needed to be, a land honoring the promise of
equality, before they got to him. But he had enough faith to believe
that we, as a people, would get there - with or without him -
if we believed, and continued to be faithful in the struggle for
equality. Instead, we settled for a holiday, and time has almost
When you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything.
There are no limits to the depths Black America has fallen, is
falling, and will continue to fall, without the courage to fight
for better than what America has given it. Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. said it best,