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Martin Luther King’s Nightmare

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It’s 10 PM on MLK Day, and I am pissed the hell off. And I feel like blogging may help. I read a book recently that lead me to believe that if I can express my rage with some type of eloquence that organizes and makes sense of it, maybe then I can relax knowing that my rage has been focused and pointed at a worthy target. (And maybe I can go to bed.) So here goes…

I just watched (and shared) a short interview of Dr. Martin Luther King answering a question from a white reporter who inquired “what is it about the Negro that makes them different from other immigrants”. The inquiry implied that while other immigrants to this country have been able to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” Negroes have not been able to overcome the obstacles put in place by this country and obtain the same success as other immigrants.

This line of thinking is why I don’t like being referred to as an “immigrant.” Most immigrants migrated by choice, not by force. They wanted to be here. We didn’t.

Anyway, this was my first time seeing this particular interview by Dr. King, as well as my first time hearing Dr. King speak so frankly on the economics of racism. And this is why I’m pissed.

Dr. King’s most well known speech is the “I have a dream” speech where he hopes, wishes and dreams for a world that his children, and all children, are judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin.

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. I have a dream today.

I remember this part of his speech so well because I had to memorize it as a child. It is the most widely praised and quoted portion of his speech at the March on Washington in 1963.

I’m realizing now, at 10 PM on MLK Day 2020, that the most well known portion of the “I have a dream” speech was so well received by people of all colors, especially White people, because it was one of the few times that MLK gave a speech that absolved White people of the guilt of having benefited from slavery. It called for all people to be seen as equal, while not focusing on America’s sin of slavery and the reasons that Black people, in particular, are not looked at as equal. That one portion of his speech idealized a colorblind world where White people and Black people, and people of other races too, were all looked at the same. In short: it made White people comfortable.

But in this clip I shared today where Dr. King is addressing the difference between the experience of African-Americans in America versus other immigrants in America, Dr. King’s speech is remarkably different from his “I have a dream” speech. He is not hoping or dreaming or wishing for a better America. He is not idealistic. And he is not holding back. He is speaking frankly about the real America, the America that we live in even today.

And now, seeing this side of Dr. King, after having been solely taught a completely different, idealistic side of Dr. King pisses me the hell off! The fact that Dr. Martin Luther King could so eloquently express the origin of the racial injustices in America – specifically the injustices that Black people face at the hands of a predominately White government – yet America has chosen to remember him for a moment in a speech where he took a few seconds to dream, instead of remembering him for fighting for racial and economic equality – it was the ‘March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom’ after all, pisses me off!

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America has “All Lives Mattered” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! His legacy has been watered down to make it more palatable for White Americans who don’t want to face the guilt of benefiting from institutions (slavery and racial discrimination) that they inherited but didn’t create themselves.

So if you’re reading this, this is what I want you to do. I want you to memorize these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Let these words resonate in your mind and come forward whenever you need to address someone’s misunderstanding of the plight of African-Americans in America. Remember these words by Dr. King:

White America must see that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. That is one thing that other immigrant groups haven’t had to face. The other thing is that the color became a stigma. American society made the negroes’ color a stigma.

America freed the slaves in 1863 through the Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln. But gave the slaves no land or nothing in reality to get started on. At the same time, America was giving away millions of acres of land to in the west and the midwest. Which meant that there was a willingness to give the White peasants from Europe an economic base. And yet it refused to give its Black peasants from Africa who came here involuntarily, in chains, and had worked free for 244 years any kind of economic base.

And so emancipation for the negro was really freedom to hunger. It was freedom to the winds and rains of heaven. It was freedom without food to eat or land to cultivate and therefore it was freedom and famine at the same time.

And when White Americans tell the Negro to lift himself by his own bootstraps they look over the legacy of slavery and segregation. I believe we ought to do all we can and seek to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps, but it’s just a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And many negroes, by the thousands and millions, have been left bootless as a result of all these years of oppression and as a result of a society that deliberately made his color a stigma and something worthless and degrading.

The real America that Dr. King described in this interview is nothing like the colorblind America he dreamed about in his “I have a dream” speech. In this interview he acknowledged that American society cannot be colorblind because of the oppression of people of color. Those centuries of oppression – slavery followed by Jim Crow followed by unacknowledged institutional racism – have made it so that the plight African-Americans cannot be compared to the plight of any other “immigrant” or ethnic minority in this country. It’s just not the same, and Dr. King plainly says that in this interview.

So memorize this statement by Dr. King, and this stance on the vestiges of slavery and segregation in this country. And quote this side of Dr. Martin Luther King whenever you’re tasked with educating someone on the plight of African-Americans in this country. Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as not just a dreamer, but a soldier in the war against capitalism and economic injustice, and we’ll all be able to rest better.

7 thoughts on “Martin Luther King’s Nightmare

  • January 21, 2020 at 7:37 pm
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    well I usually don’t reply to anything but I have to say that I watch a video on YouTube and it was one of the best videos I’ve seen on YouTube very informative so much food for thought that I am looking up everything that you said and I just appreciate the inspiration you know cuz knowledge is power it’s important for us to keep this type of knowledge alive so our children and their children to fight for equality and justice for a lot of the African Americans that our ancestors of the slaves of Africa

    Reply
    • January 24, 2020 at 2:53 am
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      Thank you so much for providing such a provocative blog post. It is imperative that we as “descendants of slaves” acknowledge the roots of our economic plight. Honestly, I have never heard this Dr. King interview. So, thank you for bringing it to the forefront. I wholeheartedly agree with you that we are more than owed reparations. Likewise, our plight is unique in that we were involuntarily enslaved as opposed to willingly immigra ting.

      Reply
  • January 23, 2020 at 3:38 pm
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    Lailah, thank you for this amazing blog post, I was too pissed that information about his work not being mentioned. Yes, that’s the part most Americans missed including why the March on Washington existed. No mention in the history books, even when I was in HS had information on equal jobs and housing justice campaign. Also, before Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, he was there for the sanitation workers strike, where thousands of black men were demanding justice. Again, too much focus on the ‘Been To the Mountain Top’ speech but not the economic boycott that Dr. King was trying to established there.

    Reply
  • January 24, 2020 at 2:46 pm
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    This article and topics you brought up on your vlog regarding MLK was had me pleasantly surprised and refreshed.

    You italicized some the the same astonishment and frustration I had in 2016 when I uncovered who MLK was a person through an online class I took at Stanford University called American Prophet: The Inner Life and Global Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.

    If this subject matter intrest you I urge you to get more information from Stanford University’s: MLK JR Research and Education Institute

    Correta Scott King transferred a lot of MLK papers and personal items and they study MLK and his accomplishments on an both personally and professionally.

    Reply
  • January 25, 2020 at 11:49 pm
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    As a Memphis native, I distinctly remember my late mother and late elders telling me that Dr. King was more than some “dream”. He woke up and was trying to make a change before his brutal murder. I was born 5 years after his murder, but my older siblings often spoke of the chaos that followed his assassination. The curfews, the lockdown and having to fear for their own lives, crawling on the floor while dodge bullets flying overhead, in downtown Memphis stores. My oldest brother was 11 and my oldest sister was 8 and all they wanted was batteries for their radios.

    These were the speeches we should have memorized and this is the King we needed to know about, in school:
    https://youtu.be/Hgwtd4X_qFM

    https://youtu.be/dOWDtDUKz-U

    https://youtu.be/2xsbt3a7K-8

    Reply
  • January 26, 2020 at 7:22 pm
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    Thank you for this. This is the root of race relations in America. Something that I may have thought about but never found a way to articulate it. You hit the nail on the head.

    Reply
  • February 11, 2020 at 10:03 pm
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    You say that you are pissed off after reading the reply to the reporter made by Dr. King. Well, I am pissed off after reading that you conclude that the white man is still the cause of our position in society today. We are undereducated and we blame the schools or say there are not enough black teachers. The truth of the matter is, if you apply yourself to take advantage of the teachings available and not complain and be disruptive in class, but do the work, our kids would be much better off. It’s funny that kids in the same school classroom, one white, one Asian, one Hispanic and one black, the black kid will come in last in academic achievement tests over and over. Education is the key to advancement in developed countries and we as blacks either don’t understand that or cannot do the work or don’t want to do the work. If there is a problem with police and we think black criminals are not being properly treated, real or perceived, blacks would be in the streets by the thousands protesting. They would be motivated enough to do something ,which would be to protest. However, when it comes to motivating and encouraging our kids to be competitive in school, we don’t have the same enthusiasm. A lack of competitive education is the cause of our place in society and not a lack of opportunity.
    Education is one problem we have and lack of discipline and being taught to respect others is another one of our problems. Unless our kids are all retarded, they can be taught the basic traits of a civilized society if parents would teach them. We need to instill the values of being intelligent and proud of your race to our black kids and pry them away from black slang being their first language. I know that you are saying that it is fun to talk and act the way we talk and act. Well, black culture has always been on a level that matched our commitment to putting our value on music, being cool and less sophisticated than mainstream level. To prove my point, if you get a position of responsibility with most companies, you have to lose the street attitude and ethnic mannerisms that you grew up with. You can’t start your meeting with “What up”? This way of talking is OK but make sure they learn proper grammar as their preferred way of speaking but we don’t do that.
    We can keep making excuses for our place in the country and keep blaming the white man or, we can start to realize that it is not in his interest to solve our problems for us. We need to start a movement that is on the scale of the original civil rights movement because it is that important. The black community needs to organize ourselves and actively promote young black girls not having babies before marriage. We need to start to encourage parents to take control of their black boys and try to remind them of the fact that they are either going to have the discipline to compete academically with white , Asian and Hispanic kids in school or be prepared to have those kids lead them in the future. We need to reinstall pride in the Black community. I know that you don’t agree with anything I said and you and other blacks would rather stay angry and wait for the white man to do this great miracle that will erase the legacy of slavery and we will start to progress. Keep waiting for another 100yrs while the rest of the world goes on without blacks progressing with them.

    Reply

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