Guest Post: Challenging the Mythic King

January 23, 2014 | Dialogue

By: Iman Shabazz

In the simplest analysis we have the choice of accepting “society” as it is or transforming it into what we desire it to be. Every day she-roes and heroes emerge amongst us to call us to a higher vision of what society could be; great women and men who dedicate their thoughts, words and actions toward the constant fight to alleviate oppression and combat injustice for the advancement of humanity. This month many will observe the life of one such hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While we may acknowledge him and some aspect of his timeless contributions, I believe there is plenty of evidence that the mythical image of King stepping forth from stone, reminding us of his “dream,” requires critical re-examination.

From my early years of elementary school I, like I’m sure most people my age, have the indelible repetition of the words “I have a dream” etched into my sound bite memory bank. For too long, while I knew little about the content of the rest of the speech, I was led to believe and accepted that King’s most profound contribution was this historic statement advocating for racial harmony and “conciliation.” However, the real Martin Luther King Jr., who became a threat to national security, is more complex than the simplistic misperceptions of his image today. I’ve come to learn that this 1963 snapshot is a gross underrepresentation of the affirmations, lessons, critical questions and solutions Dr. King left us; yet we seem to consent to this globally perpetuated image that is re-enforced every “King holiday.”

Even a cursory glance at King’s work makes it crystal clear that although he proclaimed his dream in ’63, this was not the sum of where his consciousness grew and what his plans of action demanded. His analyses were sharpened to reveal a more revolutionary purpose and path toward freedom and justice. To stay fixed on King’s reshaped and repurposed “dream” prohibits further critical analysis and discussion. A writer attempts to connect King’s life’s work to the emergence of the “post-racial Obama era” by stating: “Rosa sat so King could walk so Obama could run so that we could fly.” One must ask if King would have been any less critical of the Obama administration than he was of the Johnson administration; particularly on the questions of global capitalism, war and militarism, racism and mass incarceration. King’s politics and work are well documented and can only lead one to conclude that he’d apply the same if not firmer criticisms of the foreign and domestic policies of today. It’s hard to imagine the speech or media interview with Dr. King in support of the drone war on Pakistan or Yemen; or the non-congressionally approved war on Libya or the escalation of war in Afghanistan and Somalia. There would be no headline photos of Dr. King proudly standing in the background during the signing of the Patriot Act extension.

Our esteemed Ancestor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked a most relevant question in the title of his book, “Where Do We Go From Here?” To arrive at a just answer we cannot ignore our historical reality. History (Ourstory) will show us in its most vibrant colors that the answer(s) isn’t pretty. It is not some fantasy of harmony where the words “post racial” become the fabric of moral and fair coexistence. King spoke critically and with radical fervor on such issues as global capitalism, racism, mass incarceration, militarism and supported the revolutionary armed struggles in Angola, Mozambique and parts of South America. He addressed race, poverty and power, not in a way that would keep us divided, ignorant and fearful, but in a manner that would guide us in the development of clear self-determined lives in a society where opulence and greed appear more important than justice and equity.

“The dispossessed of this nation, the poor, both white and Negro – live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize against that injustice, not against the lives of persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty.” (MLK, Jr.)

“The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.” (MLK, Jr.)

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. … A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.” (MLK, Jr.)

The answer, the real answer, is not pretty. It is not going to allow you to be comfortable; it’s not going to allow you to be satisfied with speaking out until your voice is tired. It will not allow your conscience to remain at ease from the letters you’ve typed or the phone calls you’ve made or statuses you’ve posted on facebook. The real answer, the only valid answer is a call to action for complete, uncompromising, unapologetic CHANGE.