As I write this article on the eve of Martin Luther King’s birthday, I am sickened by the fact that so many Black folks have gotten and are still getting so much from MLK’s work, but so few have been willing to do what MLK did. I am appalled by the banter between the Obama and Clinton campaigns regarding what MLK did and what he said. I am outraged that, yet again, for the 40th year, many of the Black folks laying claim to Martin’s legacy, that is, getting in the trenches and getting something done, are those who continue simply to pontificate on MLK’s righteousness, strength, and fearlessness. All of this, mind you, with not a bead of sweat on their foreheads, and not a wrinkle in their white shirts, silk blouses, and tailored suits.
An article in my book, Black Empowerment with an Attitude, titled, “O.K. Martin, you can go back to sleep now,” recounts our annual condescending, obligatory, MLK Day charades. This year, which marks the end of the fourth decade after his death, we have turned it up a notch. We have resurrected Dr. King this time in the name of pure politics. The Democratic Party is in self-destruct mode over, of all things, “Race.” Yes, the Clinton-Obama candidacies have turned out to be a race about race. And to make matters even stranger, they are using the name and work of MLK to make their cases.
Divide and conquer are at play in a big way in 2008. By the time it’s all over, we may be looking at another Republican who wants to keep us in Iraq and make forays into Iran. If the Dems keep fighting old, and I do mean old, John McCain will waltz into the Presidency, probably with Joseph “Benedict Arnold” Lieberman as his V.P. How stupid are the Democrats anyway? A better question is: How stupid are we, Black folks? We are divided, to the extent of spilling blood, over two Democratic candidates for President, while once again, for the umpteenth time, the “Black vote is critical to this election.”
We have two Black billionaires, one for Hillary and one for Barack, trying to sway us to support their guy or gal, as we, the Proletariat, sit in the peanut gallery and the bleacher seats, watching it all play out. The sad part is that we think we have some skin in the game. Just what will Black people win if any of these candidates is elected? We may not need to ponder that question for too long though; these guys are spending millions to get the job, which by the way, could be better spent on something that would help the poor and disenfranchised.
The notion that Martin Luther King, Jr. is being inserted into this political race is insulting to his work and his legacy, but it will continue I am sure. They are going to get all the mileage they can from “The Dream” this year. They will recite, “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” so many times it will make our heads swim. They will invoke his name, but they will never do what he did. They will traipse out U.S. Congressman John Lewis and recount his Bloody Sunday experience. They will cite the fact that April 4, 2008 will be the 40th Anniversary of MLK’s assassination. No stone will be left unturned, folks. They will vie to see who can be the best MLK sympathizer and who can give the best sermon or speech.
It is amazing that those who use MLK to achieve their personal advancement seldom use anything beyond the two quotes cited above. I often wonder why, for instance, they never talk about the part of the Mountaintop Speech in which king said, “…we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bankâ€”we want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. So go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something we don’t do ourselves at SCLC.” King went on to say, “You have six or seven black insurance companies in Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”
Economic leadership requires us to do more than recall, recant, and revisit a couple of quotations regarding MLK, who was so much more than a civil rights martyr. He understood and was willing to do the things necessary for our economic liberation because he knew, if we wee going to have true power in this country, collectively, we would have to use the leverage of our dollars to attain that power.
King continued, “Now these are some practical things we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here. We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
As I said at the beginning, “Please forgive us, Martin.”