For most Americans, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a day of dreaming. For me, it is a wake.
“The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is a day on which a particular kind of performance is expected of every Black American.
It is believed that we should join hands; sing sweet gospel songs; be respectable, conciliatory, and most importantly, civil representatives of the man assassinated by the very nation that turned him into a hollow holiday platitude. A man whose face they put on postage stamps and t-shirts to sell back to us at a premium.
For us, today is supposed to be a day of forgiving, certainly; but most of all: of forgetting.
This day inspires a peculiar kind of performance from white Americans as well. In their case, they use it to convince themselves of their own “inherent goodness,” “godliness,” and “innocence”—even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. These are people who voted for Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump; who “don’t have a racist bone in their bodies” but whose hearts, minds, and guts are a different story.
They vote against any and every measure that might even suggest Black equity and restitution. They watch videos of unarmed Black people being murdered by police and ask: “Well, what did they do to deserve it?” They, who are in collusion with the judicial and legislative representatives replacing every living dream Ancestor Martin had with a wicked nightmare.
These are the people who are keen to remind anyone who questions their motives how they, or some relative of theirs, “marched with King” during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but whose politics are best represented by the pigs walking on two legs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm:
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Whether for Black people or for white people, the design of this day insists upon cursory glances instead of thorough examinations. It hides misdirection beneath a blanket of aspirations. It pulls words out of their context rather than encouraging that the entire book be read, cover to cover, multiple times.
This day…this constructed day, my dear family...is a pathological liar.
If it is to be of any use to anyone (and I am well aware that it was intended to be of no use to nobody), Martin Luther King, Jr. Day can only be a day of mourning.
Everyone who hears the name Martin Luther King, Jr. should feel haunted. Not just by the ravaging attack dogs or flesh-rending water hoses or ice cream floats poured over the heads of teenagers at lunch counters. Not just by the little boys strapped in electric chairs, little girls blown up in churches, grown men strung up like kites, or grown women tossed into alleyways like trash.
But also by splattered blood and the balconies of cheap motels.
Those fingers pointing yonder? They just might be pointing at you.
What haunts me on this day is knowing that my Ancestor was about to start a poor people’s movement; and America, shaking in its designer boots at the very thought, finally had to be rid of him. In their bone-deep sadism, they chose the goriest possible way to do it.
This is a day of mourning. That is all it can be. And the mourning should be endless because this country’s crimes are endless. Chief among them is how it blames Black people for all of its sins. No. More than blame, this country positions Black people as the sin. Sadly, even some Black people agree with that mis-framing (a demonstration of our programming). We turn our noses up at each other. We are embarrassed by each other. We mimic the cruelties we endure and direct them toward one another. We abandon our ancient pact of community and declare war on each other over the scraps thrown from the same tables we are not invited to dine at.
We clamor to be seated at these tables, but do we ever ask what is being served? Here’s a hint: “Soylent Green is people.” And we are not cannibals, are we? Are we?
My gut says no. But diets are always subject to change. So taking self-inventory is imperative.
Ancestor Martin had a dream, but America consumes Negro dreams.
Because America dreams of subjugation.
America dreams of cash.
America dreams of star-spangled nooses.
America dreams of death.
That is why, for me, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is mourning time.
It is a wake.
Mourn with me, then.
And it is okay to weep.
But afterwards, we must gather ourselves and prepare for the long and impossible work of healing.
“Overdose death rates increased significantly for Black, American Indian/Alaska Native people in 2020” via The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
“Suicides among Black People May Be Vastly Undercounted” via Scientific American
“‘No Way Out?’ Black Male Suicides Rising Faster Than Any Other Racial Group” via The Observer
Gun Homicides Rose Sharply During Pandemic, Black Men Most Affected via U.S. News and World Report
“In a first, firearms were leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens in 2020” via NBC News
“Black Trans Activist Mar’Quis Jackson Killed in Philadelphia” via Them
“LGBTQ rights activist Edwin Chiloba's body found stuffed in a metal box on roadside in Kenya” via CBS News
“Black Trans Woman Jasmine 'Star' Mack Killed in Washington, D.C.” via The Advocate
“LAPD’s Release of Drug Tests Is Smearing Keenan Anderson, Groups Say” via Vice
“The scary side of the Damar Hamlin situation nobody actually wants to talk about” via The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show
“Shanquella Robinson's Family Honored Her On What Would Have Been Her 26th Birthday” via Blavity
“Can There Be Unity Between Black People and People of Color?” via Stranger Fruit
“A Blueprint for Black Liberation” via The Atlantic