Several years ago, I wrote a blog titled Dear White People, Before You Post Dr. King Quotes To Make Yourself Feel Good. Each year that blog goes viral on Martin Luther King Day as people challenge others not just to quote Dr. King but to live their lives in such a way that would carry forth his message. For 2022 I have updated this blog, continuing to challenge White people not to post quotes to feel good or for appearance sake when they are doing nothing to advance race relations in America.
This blog also kicks off my new podcast, Talk Some Shit, where I will be having real talk about racism, politics, and feminism.
Listen to “Before You Quote Dr. King To Feel Good…” on Spreaker.
Monday, January 17, 2022, marks the day that many in the nation will observe Dr. Martin Luther King Day. I will not use this article to detail the incredible life that Dr. King led. Dr. King is one of the most known, quoted, and recognizable civil rights leaders worldwide. While Dr. King was assassinated over fifty years ago, his powerful words on injustice continue to live on. Inevitably, many White people will post quotes from Dr. King on this day. However, their understanding of Dr. King is limited to one quote within his iconic I Have A Dream speech during the March On Washington. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
They never seem to quote any other aspect of the I Have A Dream speech but instead want to use that line to criticize Black people for speaking out against injustice and speaking up against racism. Many White people believe that even to talk about racism is a source of division, forgetting that it was Dr. King that said, “Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.” In other words, silence is no longer an option. Many White people want to focus on the I Have A Dream speech while overlooking the fact that Dr. King said, “I must confess, that dream that I had that day has turned into a nightmare.”
Today America will what do it often does, quoting Dr. King as if they have amnesia but Black people have not forgotten. America is great at pretending they have always supported Black leaders after they have died. Look at how this nation celebrates Muhammad Ali as if he didn’t tell White America, “You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my rights here at home.”
Our own FBI declared Dr. King was the most dangerous Negro in the world, stating, “Personally, I believe in the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands head and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negroes. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security. According to an early 1968 Harris Poll, the man whose half-century of martyrdom we celebrate this week died with a public disapproval rating of nearly 75%. So, this love of Dr. King on this day does not impress me; it does not move me. So in 2022, let’s stop pretending.
When you think about quoting Dr. King today and in the future, ask yourself, “Am I quoting Dr. King to make myself feel good, or am I using his words as a wake-up call for my life? Am I cherry-picking the parts of Dr. King’s speeches that make me feel good, or am I using his words as a mirror to examine the role I have played in White supremacy?
When you quote Dr. King today, I challenge you not to focus on the regurgitated quotes that make you feel good. Ask yourself when I mention Dr. King’s I Have A Dream Speech, why don’t I ever seem to quote Dr. King stating, “But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.”
When White people refuse to educate themselves on ANYTHING about Black people, when they are fighting to remove accurate history from the classroom, remember it was Dr. King that said, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
When you want to mention Dr. King’s dream, remember Dr. King was clear that we exist in two Americas when he said, “One America is beautiful for situation … millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity. But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebullience of hope into the fatigue of despair … They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
When Black people look at events like January 6 and question how those we elected into office turn a blind eye to people trying to undermine a legitimate American election, remember that it was Dr. King that said, “The U.S. government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
When Black people are fighting for voter reform, challenging our elected officials to consider the people and do the right thing, remember it was Dr. King that said, “So it is necessary for Congress to pass meaningful legislation.”
When White people believe the injustice that Black people face in America is not their problem, remember it was Dr. King who said, “And we need people all over America who are genuine liberals. It is one thing to rise up with righteous indignation, when a Negro is lynched in Mississippi, or when a bus is burned in Anniston, Alabama, but if the person of goodwill were to rise up with as much righteous indignation when a Negro cannot live in his neighborhood, because he’s a Negro, when a Negro cannot join his professional society, or cannot be a member of this fraternity or sorority, or when a Negro cannot get position in his firm because he happens to be a Negro. In other words, there must be a concern on the part of people all over this country, and this is the way we will solve this problem.”
When Black people are demanding that the totality of history be taught in our schools, remember it was Dr. King that said, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
When White people want to speak about “Black on Black” crime, remember Dr. King said,” We must say to them that poverty, ignorance and disease breed crime, whatever the racial group may be. These things are environmental and not racial.”
When White people want to say not all and not me when discussing racism as if racism is solely about an individual and not corrupted systems, remember it was Dr. King that said “White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.”
When you say it’s too hard and it will require too much sacrifice when you think you are not gonna have to give up anything, remember Dr. King said, “Now let us go out to stick together and stay with this thing until the end. Now it means sacrificing, yes, it means sacrificing at points. But there are some things that we’ve got to learn to sacrifice for. And we’ve got to come to the point that we are determined not to accept a lot of things that we have been accepting in the past.”
And lastly, on this day, when you reject learning about racism because it makes you feel uncomfortable, remember it was Dr. King that said, “But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of goodwill will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination.”
And let me be clear, this fight has been challenging. This fight has been difficult. But similarly to Dr. King, I will never become adjusted to what is happening in America. I will never become adjusted to a 26-year-old Black woman being killed by the police in her home. I will never become adjusted to a young Black boy being murdered on his way home from buying Skittles and tea. I will never become adjusted to Black people being profiled for jogging down the street. I will never become adjusted to injustice. That is what Dr. King was trying to get this nation to see. He was trying to wake this nation from its willful slumber and complacency. We are a nation that is comfortable with injustice. We have gotten into bed with white supremacy. We allow ignorance and injustice to cuddle with us at night. Dr. King was fighting to shake a nation. Dr. King wasn’t fighting, so you could dust off a quote, post it on social media one day out of the year and do nothing to advance race relations in this country. On this day and every day, I challenge White people do not just read the Dr. King quotes that make you feel good. Read Dr. King’s work in its entirety and ask yourself. “Am I contributing to the dream or helping to facilitate the nightmare?”
Categories: Politics, Race Relations, Thoughts, Musings and Reflections
Great points. Thanks for sharing
Thank you so much, Kareem.
Excellent, as always. Today, based on a post from Austin Channing Brown and this blog, I downloaded two books written by Dr. King and have promised myself to educate myself even more about him and his life. Thank you for continuing to shake me and wake me up over and over again. I just followed your podcast on Spotify, and see that you are a guest on many episodes of different podcasts. I will listen to those, as well. I am grateful for you.
This is brilliant! Thank you for raising your voice and reminding us how much work we still have to do.
Thank you so much, Scott.