January 26, 2005

The White Abstract King: Misperceptions and Corrections (A Quotatarium)


If they shall fall away, [then] renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” - Hebrews 6:6

The shame of course, as the title suggests, is the historical memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What has been crucified anew, if you will, (hijacked is more like it) is that very same legacy and memory of exactly what he was about and what he stood for.

A preceding portion of that scripture quoted above suggests, intriguingly so, that it’s impossible for the People Of The Dream, so to speak, to “fall away”. This brings to mind a curious notion I have long since pondered on:

If White Americans regard the racist beliefs and actions of the "founding fathers" and other otherwise great American leaders or icons of the past as simply something that could be attributed to “the times in which they lived”, are the racial attitudes and beliefs Whites have today merely a function, a convenient reflection of the times in which we live in today?

The underlying truth and premise there is that White Americans, in truth, have been historically on the wrong side of race-relations. If we go by the rhetoric of the majority of Whites (and some Blacks who are at least in some respects ideologically or philosophically aligned with what is largely "White thinking"), they would have us to believe that the People Of The Dream, Black people, have indeed fallen way. Now, excuse me, but that's some funny math. And no amount of funny carnival mirrors can compensate for the obvious distortion one would have to accept to make such a premise believeable. But, there does seem to be some support, or at least a theory, for why my thoughts above ring true:

None of the civil rights acts of the 1960's were supported by the majority of whites. [Up to 74% felt that Negroes were "moving too fast" and "asking" for too much.] Neither was desegregation via the Brown v Board decision. And needless to say, neither was abolition of slavery. But interestingly, after laws were changed, more and more people (though admittedly not enough) came to accede to the new norm, and actually reduced their opposition to such laws and changes. Keep in mind, most people are conformist. They assume the laws are legitimate, and the state is legitimate. As a result, when activists force changes, over time (sometimes a very short time), most people come to at least passively accept those changes..." Tim Wise

Passively? Perhaps passively aggressive would be more accurate but at issue here is not just the views of White Americans. Certainly and, obviously, any number of any people of every race/ethnicity in America (or the world for that matter) would seem to latch onto the MLK captured in one line or two of his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. We all know it by now, the homogenized (and bastardized) catch-phrase “content of character” and the other assorted Brotherhood Of Man, colorblind themes. Black folks and White folks holding hands. Ain’t that grand? Such fabulous myths.

Seriously, the force of those words, in context and direct from the source, of course are hardly problematic. The way they have been kidnaped, raped, misappropriated and coopted are without question - problematic. They have been used to shrink and reduce his words, his beliefs in a way to where his most to-the-point views have been rendered unrecognizable. That, of course, is no accident. But Dr. King was particularly mindful of the pretenses of Whites, in particular, who proclaimed to be all for him but were really more of a hinderance.

To highlight my point, I couldn’t help but directly borrow this quote from James Agee taken from a piece on the same subject written by Paul Gaston. It captures this decrowning of King (the taking away some of his ruling philosophies) with uncanny accuracy:

The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor... Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas."

I can hear the words of that (new) Negro spiritual, “Where you there when they crucified my (Dr.) King?”

Certainly, Dr. King has been put to shame and crucified by those who have cynically misused his words against some of the very things he was adamant and unmistakably vocal about. I need not mention Affirmative Action, for surely he weighed in on that even before it earned its name... On the Pro side. I won't mention that he openly advocated for essentially hard quotas. That would seem to suggest he actually was practical and realistic. Note: He spoke about the prevailing dialogue were the White consensus view was to merely concede equal rights (under the law) to Blacks, in minimalist fashion, and how their Letter Of The Law sense of what equality was, was unrealistic - not to mention in violation of obvious logic and the Spirit Of The Law (of equilibrium).

No, and I won't mention how MLK by all appearances was down with Reparations. It's pretty clear that he felt that "They Owe Us" and he said things that literally said just that as well as figuratively calling for "checks". No, talking about all that would be a distraction to the from all this dreaming we like to do. All this devoid of reality rationales some of us, too many of us come up with.

"We've come a long we, but we still have a way to go." If that wasn't so cliche it would be passe'. Such is the stuff of supreme mythology. The empty and meaningless necessary rhetoric for the illusion that there is a commitment to do just that - go all the way. The fact that Kings most practical and relevant views have been marginalized is resounding evidence that there is no such commitment.

Despite new laws, little has changed...The Negro is still the poorest American -- walled in by color and poverty. The law pronounces him equal -- abstractly -- but his conditions of life are still far from equal." - MLK

Something that's abstract is something that is removed from reality. Something that is said and mentioned in a way to draw attention away from the recognizable truth of what has made things current the reality. Finally, something that's abstract, like the prevailing ideas of what "equality" is in America, is something that is disassociated, disconnected from what is specifically at issue. So there is no wonder why King's Dream is what is promoted. Dwell on the abstract and you don't have to be bothered with the troubling facts that come from America's troubling past. Let's just forget that. Along with that, let's forget the conditions King put on his dream too. Conditions he put on just about everything he said.

Obviously, Dr. King wanted to deal with the real. Instead of just merely being satisfied with "equal rights", Dr. King knew that it would take more than the mere passage of laws or even a change in White attitudes towards Blacks to make winning civil rights meaning. He spoke in very specific terms, not just dreamy ones. One specific thing he spoke on was, as his quote above suggests, how he felt there was a pressing need to have real equality in every aspect, every condition of life, not just equal rights on the law books.

So, it is obvious that he recognize both race and class were inextricably tied (again, look at the quote). And, he was an avid proponents of redistributive policies. Again, he did favor Reparations, quotas, and affirmative actions style programs without question. Unlike those who pretend to know him but don't or would rather dismiss his discomforting views, he vigorously thought and rethought what it would take to achieve racial JUSTICE for Black people. That, he saw as no contradiction to his noteable "content of character" clause. So, bump what you've heard.

MLK spoke widely about radical change. And, no, even after the passage of the Civil Rights Acts he still wasn't satisfied. (If you read "I Have A Dream" you would know he set conditions on that too. "We will not be satisfied until...") Even after that, after Blacks were allowed to vote he still advocated radical change and even used that term radical with the term revolution. Now, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that his vision for America and for how Blacks could become fully "equal" would undoubtedly be radically different from what we have today. He wanted to get to the root of the matter. And, at the root of that was the problem he saw his people in.

"The Negro today is not struggling for some abstract, vague rights, but for the concrete and prompt improvement in his way of life." - MLK

See?? He didn't dwell on the abstract. Yes, he had a dream but he spoke widely on Remaining Awake.

Here are some selected quotes to shatter some misperceptions, detach those still in the abstract and properly put MLK into proper perspective with his own words on things that were beyond just dream-speak:



At 11:05 AM, Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

I cringe everytime I see the "I have a Dream" speech being referenced on television because I feel like that speech was one of Dr. King's worst speeches. Compared to his speeches in small black churches, or other non-televised remarks, the "I have..." speech was milquetoast. It was a supplication, not a demand. It was his first nationwide address, and he knew that whites would not take to his more militant language.

Martin Luther King was a "militant," not a weak dreamer, as he is remembered now. He REFUSED to be degraded by whites; he did not merely ASK them to stop degrading him and his people. I wish America would remember the real King, but it never will. Nor will it know the real Douglass, Tubman or X.

In many ways, King's acceptance by the main stream is a "compromise." In exchange for allowing King's views into the mainstream, whites cut out the fat--the stuff that was too "extreme." The same goes for blacks in general. We "compromised" our way into the mainstream. We traded our culture and our more militant beliefs for jobs and social services.

If you listened to only to modern TV, you'd think that MLK was a popular individual in the 1960s. He most certainly was not, and was widely despised in the white world. He existed at the center of dissent: civil rights and the war in Vietnam at the same time. In private, many (maybe even most) whites still despise King and what he stood for.

I have a book recommendation: "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King and the SCLC." It's an amazing read.


At 11:19 AM, Blogger NmagiNATE said...


You just echoed my exact thoughts and reason for my commentary. And what you said about the Uncivil Compromise is irrefutably exact.

What gets to me more is how Blacks repeat the White (Abstract), commercialized view of MLK. They would rather reduce him to things Dreamy than earnestly examine what he said concerning practical matters and how to practically implement (in his view) what it would take to Fulfill The Dream.

Frankly, I really find it hard to understand the motive of Blacks who willingly (by willed ignorance or purposed IGNORing) distort or misrepresent who Dr. King was and what he stood for.

Advocating JUSTICE for Black people specifically is not inconsistent or mutually exclusive to wanting equality for all.

I'll list several quotes of MLK next that tend to challenge the (White) popular views of MLK.

Again, your comments are so precise and reflect exactly what I was trying to get across.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger NmagiNATE said...

Selected MLK Quotes: Corrections For The Mistaken

"For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of the society, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you've got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values." - 1967

"White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change of the status quo...This is a multi-racial nation where all groups are dependent on each other...There is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity."

"...the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land..."

"Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic.
For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up."

"A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis."

Reporter: "Do you feel it's fair to request a multi-billion dollar program of preferential treatment for the Negro, or any other minority?"

Dr. King: "I do indeed...Within common law, we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs. ... America adopted a policy of special treatment for her millions of veterans...They could negotiate loans from banks to launch businesses. They could receive special points to place them ahead in competition for civil service jobs...There was no appreciable resentment of the preferential treatment being given to the special group."

"If a city has a 30% Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30% of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas."

"We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice."

"No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries……Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages. The ancient common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriation of a the labor of one human being by another. This law should be made to apply for American Negroes. The payment should be in the form of a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a
settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law."

And finally a few MLK quotes on focused struggle - with due referencing regards to Fredrick Douglass:

"No social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of dedicated individuals."

"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable ... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

*** "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one or it may be a physical one…… But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will." ***

"Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest."

At 3:43 PM, Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

I don't know if you guys watched Meet the Press a few weeks ago, on King Weekend. But Russert played a quote from when King was on Meet the Press in 1967. The moderator asks King if the civil rights movement is worth it (a common question from whites). King replies that it's definitely worth it, but that there are only a SMALL, "DECENT" MINORITY of whites that will say so.

Towards the end of his life, MLK was so unyielding that even he was beginning to call white power out for what it really was--a depraved system hell bent on destroying every other culture on earth.

Blacks who stick to the "Dream" language probably don't know any better. I gave a talk on King Day in Watts and it was almost pointless. Most of the black kids barely knew who King was...

At 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If White Americans regard the racist beliefs and actions of the "founding fathers" and other otherwise great American leaders or icons of the past as simply something that could be attributed to “the times in which they lived”, are the racial attitudes and beliefs Whites have today merely a function, a convenient reflection of the times in which we live in today?"

I beleive the majority of whites have a "privilege" attitude that is based on their having been able to "get away" with the injustices they have imposed on other races for the sake of economic advantage. The "in the past" is a pretext excuse they use to avoid the corrections needed to rectify what they have done. Affirmative action is one of the corrections. King's "dream" is just that - a dream. Not until whites relent their self proclaimed status of "priviledged" will there ever be a system of equality. The best We as Black people can do today is to continue to force whites to honor that contract - the Constitution. And as you are aware, We have made many efforts toward that end by suing them

At 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If White Americans regard the racist beliefs and actions of the "founding fathers" and other otherwise great American leaders or icons of the past as simply something that could be attributed to “the times in which they lived”, are the racial attitudes and beliefs Whites have today merely a function, a convenient reflection of the times in which we live in today?"

I beleive the majority of whites have a "privilege" attitude that is based on their having been able to "get away" with the injustices they have imposed on other races for the sake of economic advantage. The "in the past" is a pretext excuse they use to avoid the corrections needed to rectify what they have done. Affirmative action is one of the corrections. King's "dream" is just that - a dream. Not until whites relent their self proclaimed status of "priviledged" will there ever be a system of equality. The best We as Black people can do today is to continue to force whites to honor that contract - the Constitution. And as you are aware, We have made many efforts toward that end by suing them.


At 5:14 PM, Blogger NmagiNATE said...

Do you not think that the legal system and those remedies have been for the most part exhausted?

At 5:26 PM, Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

Yes, I do. I think whites have gone about as far as they are willing to go, courts or otherwise. In fact, I believe they will soon try to roll back many of the things they did give us in the courts.

I can't imagine what else we can sue for. Reparations is a waste of time, in my opinion, because it will NEVER happen.

From here on out, as Jesse Jackson says, "it's about the money." The democratization of captial, as he says, is the fourth leg of our struggle. The first was slavery, then Emancipation, then the civil rights movement, now capital.

I think we should focus on building a black society that looks inward and focuses inward, rather than attempting to join the mainstream. By that I mean it's better to start a small business than to go work for some big company. Success, in my world, is measured by independence, though I have yet to reach that point.

At 6:41 PM, Blogger NmagiNATE said...

Well, the way I view Reparations (and I'm not talking merely about "checks").... it is indispensible with Independence.

To me there is more than just mere economic independence and I don't buy this "all White people will allow or give" business. I can for the life of me think that any of our forbears who advanced our struggle to such thinking.

Reparations is about restoration. Independence above and beyond economic independence is what was lost...

At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I do not. Keep in mind that Blacks are now "embedded" into the legal system. What We need are more Black lawyers who specialize in civil rights. The legal system is the step before rioting and whites know this. Blacks rid this country of slavery by making it infeasible for whites to continue with it. History shows We tried first by going through the legal system and when that did not work, We took other routes, ie, poisoning "massa", sabotage, running away, etc. Now We boycott, riot, buy Black only, protest, etc. Remember, there are those whites who also despise inequality and some are in positions of power in the legal system.


At 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One interesting note about the King debate is that in 1956 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King’s resistance effort was nearly destroyed. King was on the verge of advocating retaliatory violence when African-American activist Bayard Rustin came on the scene and saved the movement. Rustin was the one who taught King and his followers the strategies of non-violent resistance. An openly gay Marxist revolutionary, Rustin had been key to the success of anti-colonial resistance efforts in India. He was basically the founder of modern black protest and was lauded internationally as a brilliant strategist of non-violent social protest. Rustin also organized the March on Washington, but during the build up to the event it came out that he was openly homosexual. Needless to say, he was criticized heavily, causing Movement leaders (and King) to distance themselves from him. Most black leaders, activists and scholars to this day disown Rustin because of his homosexuality, which further mirrors the sanitized, milquetoast approach to the King legacy.
-Jean Michel

At 8:29 PM, Blogger NmagiNATE said...


Thanks for the info. Very interesting stuff...

While I have no problem exhausting every means, I see basing our struggle on what we can get out of the legal system and the Constitution as inherently limiting. But more power to all the brothers and sisters who pursue those means.

I'm just not one to say "All We Can Hope To Do".
Again, our forebears have debunked that idea.
Certainly the confines of Segregation and Slavery had their own "All We Can Hope To Do's" that were demonstrated to be false.

So much has advanced in terms of the concept of civil society and democracy has changed (meanings and understandings expanded) for us to "only hope" to find solice in supposed Constitutional gaurantees...

At 4:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was aware of Rustin. There was an expose on his involvement on PBS about a year or two ago. King's movement required that the people who were going to be in the focus of the movement be as clean as possible. Note that Rosa Parks was not the first to refuse to give up her seat to a white man. Their were other Black women who did the same but their background did not pass this "clean" test. One woman they were going to front turned out to be pregnant but unwed. King and his organization did not want her to represent their movement so they waited. Rosa Parks was clean.


At 4:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no argument with your view. I simply believe that We need to attack from all fronts and angles. I do not agree with rioting but I understand its need in a white system that seems to fear it. Blacks have successfully and on their own established Black run and owned cities only to have them destroyed by jealous whites. Please recall Rosewood, Greenwood, Nicodemous, Mound Bayou, Wilmington, etc. When We initiated movements to go back to Africa, what did whites do? They sicked the FBI on US and labeled those involved as communists. Let's face it, We are a part of this American system and We will not exist in it as a separate country or entity. Whites out number Us. Whites have the weapons (they need them to keep what they have stolen). And to be even more blunt, whites stick together in the end. And as Hombre said in the movie of the same name, "They better" stick together.


At 5:33 AM, Blogger NmagiNATE said...

We will not exist in it as a separate country or entity.

Comrade, I've said nothing about being a separate country. I only mention Independence principles that the US Constitution and US legal remedies won't stipulate to.

I certainly don't believe because of the history you cited in terms of the Black Wallstreets, etc. that you feel those type of efforts should be abandoned. That would be giving in to the racist, jealous Whites...

And the fact that they outnumber us is a given.
So now what?? Let their numbers and their Constitution completely dictate what we do?

I approach the situation with NO FEAR brother.
I'm not trying to commit suicide but MLK said something about those who don't have a cause to die for. Principles they won't hold in situations of difficulty.

I can't look back at his or any of those sacrifices and say that they took that kind of mindset and there were under far worst conditions with far less reason to believe that their resistance to the status quo was not suicidal. But they did it anyway...

It's cheating, IMO, to take a reduced role and mindset when they chose not to...

At 6:21 AM, Blogger NmagiNATE said...

Comrade, Justin (aka bombsover~) brought up the topic of Independence. I merely expanded on it and within the context of things both he and you said.

Resigning ourselves to whatever we can "hope" to get out of the legal system and Constitution are not a form of Independence. And, having Independent thinking (as I said as it relates to concepts of democracy and civil society that have advanced beyond the Constitution) means by definition to not merely accept the parameters, defintions and interpretations of someone else.

That's how the legal avenue and the Constitution is inherently limited. Inherently not what Independence is...

Independent thinking in that regards requires no separate country or entity. The MLK Model, so to speak, is to "dramatize" the shameful hypocrisy in ways undeniable. The MLK Model is to speak to higher principles and to interpret them ourselves.

Even legal scholars admit the limitation of that avenue...

At 11:15 AM, Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

Jean Michel, Thank you for bringing up Bayard Rustin, the forgotten architect of the King/non-violent philoshopy. Any detailed biography of King, or any great civil rights book, will have give great credit to Rustin.

Black Americans really need to get over this ridiculous homopobia we seem to be stricken with.

At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. I’ve become very impatient by the disturbing level of denial and intolerance in our communities. Rustin has only recently come into the limelight, largely due to the efforts of white gay scholars and biographers. Within queer discourses, Rustin has become quite a hero and icon for his advocacy of universal humanism. Now blacks are scrambling to re-claim him from the grip of whites, despite they’re initial neglect – it’s absurd really!
-Jean Michel

At 3:59 PM, Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

I bought a video compilation of King speeches that I often listen to in the morning before I face whitey. :-)

Today, I listened to his speech at the end of the Selma-Montogemery march, where he askes "how long? not long!" I love that! That is a very underrated speech, and it is my favorite King sppech. And then I watched his last speech, which, at once, makes me shudder and gives me hope for the future. He's just lettin' it all out...

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, King was a beautiful and dynamic orator. If you want to read about Rustin, pick up these books. Both are incredible!

“Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin,” ed. Carbado and Weise.

“Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin” by John D’Emilio

There is a real need in this country to revisit the Civil Rights Movement. It’s been largely misinterpreted and sugar-coated to death.
-Jean Michel

At 10:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Another suppressed aspect of both the Civil Rights and Black Power
Movement’s was that they were oppressive to woman, as well as homosexuals. The Black Power Movement was particularly misogynistic and degrading to black women. You should look it up… it’s fascinating. Bayard Rustin was outspoken about these inequities, and how they were the Achilles heel of the Movement. He asked how is it that blacks can be against oppression, and simultaneously oppress women and homosexuals of color? King was sensitive to these concerns as well, but he was under a great deal of pressure to present a palatable image to the public.
-Jean Michel

At 9:53 AM, Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

Jean Michel. Thanks for the book recommendations. I had heard of the latter, but not the former. I want to read one of them (I have a stack of about 10 books I still have to read). I will certainly put them on the list.

By today's standards, MLK would be considered a sexist. I don't think he was a homophobe. Little known to us, after the Bus Boycott, King began writing in various black magazines. One of his columns was an marital advice column for black women. (Can you believe that?) He used to tease women with his writing, asking "Do you nag?" "Do you talk too much at home?" "The primary role of the woman is that of the mother." It's amazing stuff.

For people of our generation (I am 29), it's fascinating to see Dr. King in that fallible light. But, to me, making him more human actually inspires me because it makes me feel that I can somehow make a difference.

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So now what?? Let their numbers and their Constitution completely dictate what we do?
(question by Nmaginate).

Since when have Blacks let them "completely dictate" what they do to Us? I certainly have never hinted that as a possibilty and the question is not even legitimate.

Please clarify to me what YOU mean by independence. Thanks.



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