I didn’t march with Dr. King. And not only did I not inhale, I didn’t toke at all. I’m one out of, oh, maybe six or so in my generation that admits to missing these iconic experiences.
Truth be told, I had some reservations about Martin Luther King. But I’m not obsessive about them, and I’ll not inflict them on others, especially on this National Holiday. My attitude today about that, as about my conscientious objection, is that I may have been right, or may have been wrong, but it’s water under the bridge now.
I offer this petition to you while reflecting on one of the seven woes given by Jesus to the Pharisees in the way they venerated the prophets of Israel’s past:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
St. Martin I can not help but possess a bitter/sweetness in the way our society venerates you as a Civil Rights leader and prophet. It is sweet in that venerating you is a sort of invasion of the pantheon and panopticon whiteness that continues to pervade our culture. I see the foisting of your name, some of your words, some of your ideas, and symbols as an interruption of our regularly scheduled cultural broadcast. Your entering into the pantheon of American heros is an apocalyptic event that uncovers that powerful performance called race. The recognition of your presence by many seems to suggest that the ‘other’ is beginning to break through the tyrannical same-ness of Euro-centrism and white supremacy. It also says that a level of goodness has progressed in our society.
But it is bitter as well. In the gospel story I mentioned earlier the prophets were venerated post-mortem by those interested in maintaining the status-quo. Jesus suggests that the prophets would have been killed by those same prophet-venerating Pharisees had they lived in their time. I see the way we honor you in this same light. There is a certain image of you that has been created by those at the center of things that has become quite comfortable. It is the Dreaming King they love. But what of the King that wanted to turn over the moneychanger’s tables of American political-economy? The King that mourned our cultural habits of thingification and crass materialism? The King that railed against a nation, in madness, in its use of violence towards others? The King that opposed the war in Vietnam and making the connections between imperialism, poverty, and racism? That King. Have we honored you faithfully?
What “got me” was the thought that, in addition to the reservations I had about this holiday at the time (e.g., could we please wait until the FBI files are unsealed, just in case there’a a bombshell in there?), maybe the holiday was a nifty little ploy to domesticate Dr. King, to make him part of the story that we’re okay now. You may have noticed that I don’t think we’re okay.
Read the original here.