Martin Luther King Would Still Fuck Our Shit Up (2022 Edition)

It's more frustrating than ever to hear conservatives who are opposed to legislation that would expand voter participation, supportive of gerrymandering that specifically reduces the power of non-whites, and losing they goddamned minds over teaching the hard truths about the United States's racial history quote Martin Luther King, Jr. like they actually give a single segregated fuck about what King really was about. They sure can trot out the whole "judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" without bothering with the radical context. They can directly tie MLK to whatever racist bullshit they want. But they can't be bothered to fucking learn about King.

Let's put this as plainly as possible: If you are against voting rights or against getting rid of the filibuster so you can vote for the voting rights you claim you're for, you may as well just piss on King's monument in DC. And we will all judge you by the shitty content of your shitty character.

But the truth of the matter is that King has always been talking about the political things that hold back Blacks from achieving full equality in this country. He had called out whites who paid lip service to the Civil Rights Movement but ultimately did nothing. He called bullshit on the filibuster. And he had no fucking patience with the way that some states decided to defy the Supreme Court after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. 

In his speech "The Summer of Our Discontent," delivered at the New School in New York City on February 6, 1964, King clearly connected rising racial protests around the country directly to the lack of progress post-Brown: "The Negro had been deeply disappointed over the slow pace of school desegregation. He knew that in 1954 the highest court in the land had handed down a decree calling for desegregation of schools 'with all deliberate speed.' He knew that this edict from the Supreme Court had been heeded with all deliberate delay. At the beginning of 1963, nine years after this historic decision, approximately nine percent of southern Negro students were attending integrated schools. If this pace were maintained, it would be the year 2054 before integration in southern schools would be a reality...the statistics make it abundantly clear that the segregationists of the South remained undefeated by this decision. In every section of Dixie, the announcement of the high court had been met with declarations of defiance. Once recovered from their initial outrage, these defenders of the status quo had seized the offensive to impose their own schedule of change."

King wasn't just blaming the racist dickholes of the South. See, MLK would still fuck our shit up because he saw both political parties as the problem: "A second reason for the outburst in 1963 was rooted in the failure of both political parties to live up to their campaign promises. From the city of Los Angeles in 1960, the Democratic Party had written an historic and sweeping civil rights pronouncement into its platform. From Chicago, the Republican Party had been generous in its convention vows on civil rights, although its candidate had made no great effort in his campaign to convince a nation that he would redeem his party’s promises. Then 1961 and ‘62 arrived, with both parties marking time in the cause of justice. In the Congress, reactionary Republicans were still doing business with the Dixiecrats, and the feeling was growing among Negroes that the administration had oversimplified and underestimated the civil rights issue."

And he took it directly to the Oval Office (which, as we know, had recently changed hands): "Negroes had manifested their faith by giving a substantial majority of their votes for President Kennedy. They had expected more of him than of the previous administration. In no sense had President Kennedy betrayed his promises, yet his administration appeared to believe it was doing as much as was politically possible and had, by its positive deeds, earned enough credit to coast on civil rights." You got that? King is saying that Kennedy was taking the votes of Black Americans for granted while not following through. "Politically, perhaps, this was not a surprising conclusion," King continued. "How many people understood, during the first two years of the Kennedy administration, that the Negroes’ 'now' was becoming as militant as the segregationists’ 'never'? Eventually the president would set aside political considerations and rise to the level of his own unswerving moral commitment." This is a full-throated endorsement of hardball tactics, including mass protest, to bring about change. 

Today, this would get him nasty tweets from people not thinking he was sufficiently deferential to the leaders who would give him crumbs they think he should be grateful for.

The entire speech is a pretty damn stunning indictment of the way that the nation failed to live up to its promises. It directly connects racist laws to racist economic conditions and the racist history of the nation to the propagation of those conditions. Quite plainly, despite what morons and assholes, like House Minority Leader and Man So White He Drains Color Out of Others Kevin McCarthy, say, King would not only support critical race theory, he'd think you were a liar or ignorant if you didn't. 

Every year since 2004, I've written an MLK Day post based on something King wrote or said. Every fucking year it's a scream of defiance against everyone who wants to do what lynch mobs did and neuter the Black man who stood up to them. Martin Luther King was a radical motherfucker and we have not yet fully grappled with his insights into the nature of race in this backsliding nation. 

(One final thing: In the Q&A part of the evening, King was asked what he thought about the more violent tactics of the Nation of Islam. While King said he opposed their approach and their belief in racial separation, he offered, "It did not come into being out of thin air; it is symptomatic of the deeper unrest, discontent, and frustration of the Negro. And I think it is an indictment on the laxity of Christianity and the laxity of democracy that a movement like this came into being. And I think that the challenge of this movement is not so much to condemn its philosophy, as I will continue to do, but go out and work harder to get rid of the conditions that brought it into being." That's some badass compassion right there.)