Monday, January 19, 2015

Never Forget that Martin Luther King Jr. was Hated by White America

Selma will likely replace the TV miniseries Roots or the documentary Eyes on the Prize in the obligatory Martin Luther King Jr. viewing rotation. 

Selma is a fine movie. It is also a product of the culture industry and racial capitalism.

While Dr. King is praised as American royalty in post civil rights era America, he has been robbed of all of his radicalism, truth-telling, and criticism of white supremacy and white privilege, the latter constituting a deep existential and philosophical rot in the heart of the American political and civic project.

The best way to kill a revolutionary or a radical is to give him or her a monument and a public holiday. James Earl Ray murdered Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. The milquetoast version of his radical politics as processed through the white racial frame and the American myth-making machine have murdered him a second time.

Ultimately, it is far easier to love a dead man. 

We cannot forget that Dr. King was hated by most of White America while he was alive.

Once more and again, racism is not an opinion. 

To wit.

Public opinion polling data from the 1960s highlights the high levels of white animus towards Dr. King, and the basic claims on human rights and citizenship made by African-Americans in the long Black Freedom Struggle and the civil rights movement.

Political scientist Sheldon Appleton offered this analysis and summary of Gallup polling data from King's era in an article published in 1995:

Appleton cites this data on animus towards Dr. King as measured by Gallup, here presented in its original form on the survey instrument:

While there have been great shifts in white Americans' public attitudes on race and racial equality, white animus in the form of a belief that African-Americans are "too demanding" about racism, and that black people are treated "fairly" in America, echo in the present. 

The latter is bizarre: in 1968 Jim and Jane Crow was still very much alive in America, the Civil Rights Movement continued, lynchings, anti-black state violence, the KKK, and American Apartheid were not dusty memories--its victims and perpetrators were still alive...the past was not even past.  

Appleton continues, highlighting the power of the white racial frame, and how whiteness and white privilege distort reality for too many White American in this summary of Gallup's data:

In 2014, Pew's public opinion polling data echoed decades-earlier findings regarding racial attitudes and black "responsibility" for social inequality along the colorline:

Matters are also complicated in the post civil rights era. African-Americans have internalized the logic of colorblind racism and symbolic racism:
A 53% majority of African Americans say that blacks who don’t get ahead are mainly responsible for their situation, while just three-in-ten say discrimination is mainly to blame. As recently as the mid-1990s, black opinion on this question tilted in the opposite direction, with a majority of African Americans saying then that discrimination is the main reason for a lack of black progress.
Racial attitudes and public opinion exist along a continuum in the United States. The past echoes in the present; the present is a function of the past.

It is easy to worship and memorialize the dead Dr. King.

Moreover, going to see a movie like Selma on Dr. King's holiday is not a substantive political act. 

In the era of Vaudeville postmodern politics, the central question thus becomes, how are Americans, across the colorline, using his life examples and struggle to confront (or not) the culture of cruelty, white supremacy, terrorism and torture as state policy, and police murder and thuggery against black and brown people, as well as the poor?


kokanee said...

Wow! I'm surprised but not shocked. Still, I have a hard time believing that northern liberals weren't advocates of MLK and his ideas — but it was neither my time or place. I did do an informal poll of elderly, liberal, affluent New Yorkers today.

I think that if one is "using his life examples and struggle to confront (or not) the culture of
cruelty, white supremacy, terrorism and torture as state policy, and
police murder and thuggery against black and brown people, as well as
the poor?" then one should quote the master directly:
Actually, the Negro has been betrayed by both the Republican and the
Democratic party. The Democrats have betrayed him by capitulating to the
whims and caprices of the Southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have
betrayed him by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of reactionary
right wing northern Republicans. And this coalition of southern
Dixiecrats and right wing reactionary northern Republicans defeats every
bill and every move towards liberal legislation in the area of civil
rights. —MLK,,_Jr.
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great
stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's
Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more
devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which
is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of
justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek,
but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who
paternalistic-ally believes he can set the timetable for another man's
freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly
advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season".—MLK,,_Jr.

chauncey devega said...

There would have been some flips. There is a great series of book on civil rights in the North and the distorted view of Northern liberals as great advocates for integration and civil rights. On the reading list, then the podcast invite list.

Is Staying Alive the book about disco and the public sphere?

chauncey devega said...

Supporting the idea of a thing is different from supporting it as a fact. Plus, you have have private versus public opinion and social desirability effects too.

Justin M. White said...

Yeah, though from my recollection he talks more about white rock, esp. "Born in the USA" and modern "country" music than disco.

kokanee said...

Stats don't lie. Eye opening article, that's for sure. Thanks!

Char said...

"Moreover, going to see a movie like Selma on Dr. King's holiday is not a substantive political act."

Nope, but a showing of Selma presents a great opportunity to recruit people toward that end.

RPM said...

We do this to every radical throughout history. The most sanitized Hollywood version of a character this side of King is Helen Keller. The most interesting aspect of her life was her activism for social justice as an adult. Americans can't stand socialism so like with King we leave it out of the narrative. The U.S. government tried to get King to commit suicide when he was working to stop the American apartheid system and than did kill him when he worked against their war machine abroad and parasitic capitalism at home. Can't teach kids that because it goes against the program that they want to indoctrinate them with.
It always seemed weird to me as a kid that I was taught how it just took the civil rights movement to raise their voice and BOOM segregation and racism was solved. Didn't wash with me. Always seemed weird that we were never taught what black people were doing between 1865 till the 1960's to resist white terrorism. Try as they might the PTB can never truly whitewash the revolutionaries of history. Teach people about them at all and eventually they will learn the truth. They erased Bayard Rustin from history but they screwed up with King. In trying to control the narrative they have just given people a chance to discover what King was really about again and again.Their plan might of worked 20 years ago but with the internet the truth will come out. They still haven't figured out a way to control it yet so his legacy no matter how diluted through racist propaganda will be shown for what it is. He was not a benevolent infallible saint who was everything to everybody. He was a brave, compassionate man who through all his flaws worked for the oppressed of the world. If we are going to put any person from the USA on a pedestal I can't think of many as deserving but not just for the reasons the media would like us to believe.

Char said...

Whenever conservatives try to claim MLK, remind them that George Schuyler was the Black man embraced by conservatives, back then. He literally wrote the book on being a Black conservative—and I mean literally. They likely won't know who Schuyler is. That's because he's such an embarrassment that even conservatives let him fade from history, despite his historic accomplishments. Give them a refresher on who Schuyler was to make apparent the ridiculous of conservatives trying to claim King.

Courtney H. said...

Here are three videos from two years ago that discuss the same things that you are discussing in this article:

Justin M. White said...

In addition to Helen Keller, consider the commercialization of Frida Kahlo (though not in the cinematic sphere... yet). And consider that, despite been keen to this issue, Malala Yousafzai has been largely silenced and used as a war-machine prop.

Listening to young Black activists like those on TWiB, I wonder if we'll start seeing the resurrection of people like Bayard Rustin and others who don't fit inside the Christian/Respectable/Family mold. In particular I'm thinking of those young people who are tired of Black Protestantism in the US co-opting them, when in fact they, even when religious, want nothing to do with the way churches are organized these days.

I'm always in favor of popularizing the unkempt and uncertain nature of the past.

Jon said...

I noted that no one here has disputed the claim that James Earl Ray had killed King, now thoroughly debunked by Atty. William Pepper. It was as he proved to a jury in the King family civil case, a government conspiracy.

joe manning said...

The pattern is from slavery to Jim Crow to color blind racism while holding white supremacy constant.

DanF said...

The one-in-four white Americans who felt black people had made their point before Selma is interesting. I wonder what a poll about whether black Americans have made their point about #blackLivesMatter would reveal? The point has been made, some attitudes might be adjusting, but nothing has changed in a judicial or institutional sense. Would 80% of Americans say the point has been made, drop it already? My instinct is 70% would say so. Has there been polling on this?

Laura Gonzalez said...

Thanks. This whole Dr. King "as most admired American of the 20th century" irritates the hell out of me, and I've been trying to fight against it for years. From reviled to revered, except we cut out the whole reviled part. I will not perpetuate that myth, because underlying it is the theme of the only admirable black man is a dead black man.

I've also read, courtesy Tim Wise, that white people thought blacks had it just fine in the late 50s and early 60s DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, when images of dogs, guns, billy clubs cracking heads were there for all to see. If white people were so clueless during that time and place, what makes them think they have their fingers on the pulse of racism today, or on the reality of what POC's lives are today?

On an aside, as a public school teacher, I REFUSE to represent MLK as the pablum, feel good Negro he's presented as. I tend to save my presentation of the facts for his death anniversary.

Dr. King called the USA on its shit. We didn't like it then, but now we can pretend it's all over and done with. We don't have any more shit to deal with, just POC who "play the victim role." We still have a long way to go before we reach the mountain top.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Schuyler was the right man in the wrong era. His anti-communism was correct, but his stance on civil rights was as wrong as most other conservatives'. He would have fit right in the modern black conservative movement, whatever one's opinion of that faction.

The Sanity Inspector said...

History didn't always use to be history. It used to be current events, as infused with controversy and rancor as those of our own day. "A tree is best measured when it's down," as was once said of President Lincoln, after he was assassinated.

The Sanity Inspector said...

I predict that in a few decades the MLK holiday will be replaced with a generic Civil Rights Day holiday, much as World War One's Armistice Day was replaced by Veterans Day.

Gina said...

the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not
the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; (emphasis added)Spot on! A big part of the society provides a stable basis. Beware of the decent & righteous!

Gina said...

MLK: Why I Am Opposed to The War in Vietnam

Found this in the discussion:
3 years ago:
Why does the new Media , feel obligated to talkabout Mr King. Every year???

Reply 3 years ago:
For the same reasons they remind us yearly of the assassination of JFK, & RFK, and the Kent State killings:

To remind the people that the Owners can do ANYTHING they want to do without ANY consequences.

kokanee said...

That's kind of funny but most Americans don't even believe that their government would even think about something like that. We know better. I read the unredacted FBI letter to MLK. Disgusting. MLK 's family won a wrongful death lawsuit against the government and still the people don't believe it.
As for fear tactics, that only works if we're afraid to put our bodies in front of the machine.

Gina said...

As for fear tactics, that only works if we're afraid to put our bodies in front of the machine.Spot on! That's the point. But when I think of the "Battle in Seattle" or the 60s, there were so many, & despite of this the resistance was broken, & they proceeded unhindered.

A very big problem is infiltration & manipulation.