With the MLK holiday coming up and UU congregations across the country marking it in worship this coming Sunday, my friend Kim Hampton wrote to white UU preachers like me in her blog last week and asked us to NOT preach about Dr. King. She asked us to refrain from preaching about King and instead preach about the things he preached about. I agree. Amen. White people need to be careful not to whitewash MLK.
Whitewashing is removing people of color from history and culture. It gets its name from the white wash mixture of water, salt, and lime that’s applied to wood, brick, and stone surfaces as antiseptic used to inhibit bacteria in barns, coops, and other such areas. Whitewashing glosses over the difficulties of our racist history and includes things from not mentioning the plague of lynching in history books to casting white actors in non-white roles. Even the MLK holiday gets white washed. All too often King holiday celebrations, especially in majority white settings, focus on “I have a dream,” and diversity and little black and white children playing together and being judged by the “content of their character” and not their color. The King holiday celebrations in many settings stay far away from the King who spoke out consistently not only against racism, but against war, poverty, economic inequality, and the problems of capitalism.
We’ve got to find a method that will disrupt our cities if necessary, create the crisis that will force the nation to look at the situation, dramatize it and yet at the same time not destroy life or property. We must formulate a program and we must fashion tactics which do not count on government good will, but instead compel unwilling authorities to yield to mandates of justice.
(Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963, following release from Birmingham City Jail)
This quote from Dr. King could have come from the organizers of Black Lives Matter marches that shut down major highways and bridges in San Francisco, Memphis, New York, Boston, Minneapolis and other locations in recent years. If the term Black Lives Matter or BLM protests give you pause, then so too would you have had the same unease about King.
The Rev. Dr. King didn’t want to settle for an America where children of all colors shared classrooms, he wanted to change the nature of the society itself. The above quote continues:
Among the goals must be a guaranteed annual income and the elimination of slums. Our economy must become more person centered than property centered and profit centered. Let us therefore not think of our movement as one that seeks to integrate the Negro into all the existing values of American society, but as one that would alter those basic values. Right now the old style march on Washington isn’t sufficiently crisis packed.. people don’t respond until their own self-interest is threatened. People don’t give up money and power voluntarily.
Whitewash needs water, so from now on no more water, but the purifying fire of justice. Let’s stop talking about Dr. King and talk more about the things he talked about. Let’s talk about holding a government hostage in order to build a racist wall, let’s talk about medicare for all, a guaranteed basic income, or as Kim Hampton suggests: lynching and the fact that 2019 is the 100th anniversary of the Red Summer and the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arriving in North America. Or let’s talk about the whitewashing itself. How we whitewash the radical, the uncomfortable, and the revolutionary right out of this MLK holiday. No more watery whitewash, but instead the purifying fire of real history, the real Dr. King, and real issues. Let’s talk about waking up and getting wise to what’s been left out so that as white people we “stop being the victims of our own brainwashing.”