There must always be rules.
Whether chasing a suspected criminal or watching the hero of a movie hunt down his sworn enemy, everyone knows you just can’t shoot someone in the back. When tough man competitions— arguably a progenitor of mixed martial arts—first emerged to see which fighting style was the best, they declared that you couldn’t gouge someone’s eyes out. Even participants in the most vicious, impromptu street corner arguments know that you just don’t talk about somebody’s mama. They are sometimes unwritten, and oftentimes unsaid, but there are always rules.
Except when it comes to the manipulation of Black people.
Last week, American Bridge, a political action committee formed with the goal of stopping the election of Donald Trump, released this anti Trump advertisement.
Most people thought the ad was an effective piece of marketing against Donald Trump’s brand of racial politics. After a week where his alt-right ties were exposed, it seemed like an appropriate throat punch against his dog whistle, dictatorial candidacy. But when I saw it I noticed something different. It hit one of the raw-nerve pet peeves that I have swallowed and allowed to fester for quite some time because no one else seems to be bothered by it. I’m sure I could phrase my objection in a more conservative, educated, unmelaninated way, but I want to say it the way it feels in my chest and burns in my gut:
Keep Martin Luther King Jr.’s name out of your mouth.
Whenever Liberal progressives or right-leaning Conservatives (both terms are correctly pronounced “wyt pee-pull”) talk about race or want to play marionette with the emotions of Black people, their go-to stop in the people-of-color puppet show is always Martin Luther King. I am not sure if it is because he is the only Civil Rights Movement reference they are aware of, or they know how our collective heartstrings are attached to his legacy, but they love to manipulate us towards their side of the argument by trotting out a reference to King. Whenever Black people are getting out of hand by stepping outside whatever prescribed boundaries society has fenced us inside of, some well-meaning White person will remind us what Martin Luther King Jr. would have done. They don’t care what it is, or even if it is true. They will wrap a lie inside the name of the Civil Rights icon as if hey are hiding a pill inside a piece of bacon to feed to a dog.
When protesters in Ferguson and Baltimore took to the streets and tossed Molotov cocktails, pundits commented how this stained the legacy of Martin Luther King, forgetting that he famously said a “riot is the language of the unheard.”
When Black Lives Matter shut down bridges and stop traffic, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly said “Martin Luther King would not support Black Lives Matter” conveniently forgetting the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge was as much a protest against the police violence of Bloody Sunday as it was a voters rights march.
Even neoliberal voices have whitewashed MLK into a peace-loving compromiser instead of the revolutionary, anti-establishment rabble-rouser that he was.
I am sure billionaire George Soros and the group of rich White people (including Susie Buell, the founder of Esprit—the official clothing of Caucasians, and gardener, artist and human Pinterest page Amy Goldman Fowler) meant no specific ill will by framing the stupidity of Donald Trump alongside the assassination of someone who gave their life for the cause of Black freedom. They probably just didn’t care. How often do you see John F. Kennedy’s name thrown out all willy-nilly?
If you ask political observers what they consider the best comeback line ever, they invariably point to the 1988 vice presidential debate when Dan Quayle compared himself to JFK. Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Lloyd Bentsen retorted, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
What Bentsen effectively said was the Caucasian version of, “Keep JFK’s name out your mouth.”
American Bridge could have made as effective an ad against Donald Trump without using the imagery of Dr. King’s death as a political tool, but they intentionally disregard the rules when they want to participate in the Black puppet show.
The more troubling part of all this is that we let them.
The greatest quote of the weekend was in response to Donald Trump using the death of Dwyane Wade’s cousin to gun violence in Chicago as a prop to reach out to Black voters. Cheadle responded by requesting that Trump “die in a grease fire.” It was a beautifully appropriate answer to Trump’s opportunistic exploitation of a painful situation, but it is really no different from Soros and friends’ inserting Martin Luther King Jr.’s death into a carrot dangling from a stick. Ultimately, neither of these groups care about the legacy of Dr. King or Black people in general. If Bugs Bunny could get Hillary Clinton elected they’d flood the airwaves with commercials painting Donald Trump as Elmer Fudd.
They all want the same thing during this hunting season: For Black people to “be vewwy vewwy quiet…”
I thought about ending this article by hoping the people who appropriate the image and legacy of Martin Luther King with reckless abandon for their own purposes die in a grease fire. After their eyes are poked out. And their mamas too.
But I wouldn’t do that. I follow the rules.