In America, January 15th—Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday—has become a day of national reflection on the life and legacy of Dr. King.
Thanks to the hard work of Coretta Scott King, politicians like Rep. John Conyers, recording artists like Stevie Wonder and many other activists, Dr. King has been immortalized by an American federal holiday that falls on the third Monday of January every year, close to his actual date of birth. But it is his actual birthday that draws the memorials from all segments of American society—including segments that, frankly make no damn sense.
— FBI (@FBI) January 16, 2017
Celebrate Martin Luther King Day and all of the many wonderful things that he stood for. Honor him for being the great man that he was!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2017
It’s become customary to indulge the legacy of MLK with niceties and platitudes, no matter how much you stand in opposition with his actual politics. But that overt hypocrisy isn’t even the most frustrating part of it all. What’s more infuriating is when his entire life of abject resistance and non-violent revolution is Whitewashed and appropriated by everyone from ignorant White conservatives to racially-centrist liberals who aim to paint him as a sweet, docile racial unifier, as opposed to an insurgent against White supremacy.
These are the people who bastardize his quotes about love and unity without mentioning the fact that his statements grappled with the brutal and complex system of Black dehumanization. These are the people who love quoting the, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” line only to make it fit their #AllLivesMatter agenda.
These people love to condescendingly scorn activists, scholars and other citizens by stating that our collective advocacy for Black lives is inherently prejudice and anathema to everything Dr. King stood for. Yet, there’s one thing they seem to constantly forget: Dr. King didn’t die of old age in a bedroom surrounded by a multicultural cornucopia of Black friends and White allies from all political spectrums. Dr. King was murdered by White supremacy. Which is why White people should memorialize April 4th, the day of his assassination, just as much as his birthday and just as much as his eponymous holiday.
Yet, when April 4th typically rolls around, the mentions decline, the hashtags diminish and his legacy goes largely unobserved in the same manner. This is incredibly problematic because the manner in which he died is, in many ways, as significant as the quotes he delivered while he was still alive.
The fact that his overt nonviolence was met with irreparable brutality is important. The fact that a White man, imbued by a nation unwilling to seriously confront its need to restrict and dehumanize the Black body, savagely brought his life to a cruel and premature end, is critical to understanding the story of Blackness in America.
How Dr. King died is not a footnote in the final sentence in the last paragraph of his obituary. It is, in and of itself, the nation’s story of Black resistance to White supremacy.
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site, ThisIsYourConscious.com. He’s author of the book, “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer.” He can be reached on Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.