You will die one day for no one lives forever. When people gather to celebrate your life and mourn your passing, would it be okay if they mentioned your deeds as a teenager but not those of your mature self? Would you rest in peace knowing they opted not to tell people of your most urgent convictions? You would roll in your grave and yet this is precisely what we do every year on King Day. The nation’s annual bastardizing of King’s legacy is hindering the progress of black people seeking liberation. This most recent King celebration must be the last of its kind.
I cannot stomach another King holiday in which we make vague statements about equality and peace. Peace was the last thing King had on his mind when he died. His thoughts were of bringing pain. As he told an audience the night before his death, “Now we must…redistribute that pain.” The pain he was referring to was that of poor sanitation workers in Memphis who were striking. The redistribution of it was to be felt by corporations, which up to that point had been responsible for or at least apathetic to black suffering. In seeking to move from that suffering to true liberation, King told his audience, “We don’t have to argue with anybody.” Rather than argue and protest, King admonished his audience that night to practice the power of “economic withdrawal.” King was over marching and debating. His calculus was simple: we have money and we can simply withhold it to hurt our enemies, then use it to strengthen ourselves. No argument needed. Yet each King holiday fosters fresh arguments with those who don’t see a problem with our nation’s treatment of black people, empty marches and some hollow acknowledgment of America’s progress. This can’t actually be helping us.
The King holiday presents black America with a fresh opportunity to embrace apathy. It is an occasion in which we are reminded to be good, peaceful and love our enemies. We should reject that message and embrace a violent commitment to that which the mature King taught us. This is why HopewellThought chose to launch a yearlong buy black campaign this month. The time for arguing is over. We are celebrating King’s legacy by actually living up to it, not concealing it with empty pleasantries. If you have not already, read up on what we are doing and get involved. Reflecting on “peace” and praising America for all her “progress” has done nothing to change the fact that black unemployment has been double that of our white counterparts since we’ve kept stats. Giving America a pat on the back for spotting a black man a holiday has not created jobs in our neighborhoods or helped our entrepreneurs access the capital they so badly need. This cannot be the celebration Dr. King had in mind.
If we are to celebrate this day we must do so in a different way. No more empty words and feel-good service projects. Those things are befitting of the 26 year old Dr. King who was the front man for the Montgomery Bus Boycott but not the mature leader who came to Memphis years later to redistribute pain. King felt no need to argue with anyone–he saw an opportunity to take power. The Dr. King who spoke in Memphis the night before his death was fully grown in his thoughts and convictions. He’d seen the weaknesses of the movement up to that point. He’d learned from his earlier successes and failures. He was ready to lead black America down a path toward true progress and power. Then he was shot. Since that time his voice has been muted in history and we are annually seduced by a holiday in his honor; it has been perverted and lacks the revolutionary spirit of the man it claims to honor. Join the campaign and let’s truly honor the legacy of Dr. King because this is not helping us.