My dad posted this article on Facebook, and I ended up sort of wall-of-texting at him. In the interests of not having to type this again in case I need it, I'm saving it here.
I'm not terribly fond of people using some highly-fictionalized privilege-friendly white-coddling version of Dr. King's work as a stick to hit people with who dare bring up race like there might still be racism and like maybe we still have work to do and white people still need to check ourselves.
In The De-Christianizing of Dr. King
, Peter Heck complains that there were no direct references to Christ or God on the monument or in the selected quotes.
My first thought was yeah, well, they somehow managed not to explicitly mention race or racism, either. If they won't let him be a hero to Christian social justice activists, at least they're not letting him be a hero to black people either. (And yes, I find both of these two things inexcusable, though hardly inexplicable.)
The sterilization of Dr. King's positions and work is really interesting, if sort of maddening. To hear the way he's discussed now, he was a nonconfrontational and nonthreatening friendly black Santa who didn't challenge anybody's ideas of justice, racial equality, or what kind of social justice battles Christians could be considered OBLIGATED by their religion to fight (but which many of them just try not to think about). He asked politely and quietly for equality and eventually it was handed to him because he was nice enough to say please and then sit down and wait for white people to be comfortable with his ideas.
I mean, by all serious accounts I've read (by which I mean to exclude the children's books they have people read in grade-school American history courses), King was considered a dangerous radical. Sure, you had X running around being even more of a scary angry black man, but it's not like people saw King during his time the way memorials like this seem to be trying to get him viewed in hindsight.
Everybody LIKES Dr. King because at this point in our culture you sort of have to like him as a symbol of... of well, whatever we're calling the best American ideals and behavior at any given time. What not everybody would like is being faced with someone like him today. When King died, wasn't his approval rating only like 30%?
Then again, I have basically the same view on Jesus. Americans are sort of all required to at least have some vague bland fondness for him as a symbol of kindness and generosity, but it's a lot easier to feel that way about him when he died way too long ago to turn over anybody's tables or assail anyone in the face with a whip.
As long as Jesus is this amiable white guy telling us we're God's favorites and not telling us that means we should change how we do things or think about our fellow humans a certain way, Jesus is great and we're all allowed to sign on with a loose version of his ideas. As long as Dr. King is this amiable black guy telling us we can all get along and not telling white people that it requires we change how we do things and think about our fellow humans (both black and Asian) a certain way, King is great and we're all allowed to sign on with a loose version of his ideas.
I think maybe it's because he said a lot of inflammatory things that are actually still basically true. It'd be a lot easier to honor the real work he did and the real reasons he did it and the real people he was working for if we didn't still have his opposition hanging around acting like mentioning racism is a dirty trick conversation ender. (For example, this article condemns people who call out racism today as though they were somehow BETRAYING King's legacy rather than continuing it.)
I don't think the people who put up this monument would enjoy or appreciate the Dr. King who really existed and was such a controversial figure in his time.
Honestly, though? I don't think the guy who wrote this article would, either, and I don't think he'd get on with Jesus any better. Just a lot of dangerous radicals bringing class warfare and race relations into everything and bothering all the comfortable privileged people who just want to live their lives pretending that nobody else's problems have anything to do with them.
I mean, what King would have to say to Peter Heck, who wrote in this very article:
While King dreamed of the day when ours was a colorblind society, the left seems intent on bringing color into every political discussion. In just the last two years, liberals have used race to condemn conservatives for their opposition to high unemployment, increased debt, stimulus spending, climate change policies, the occupy Wall Street protests, and for the mere observation that food stamp usage has skyrocketed under President Obama.
Sounds like somebody still doesn't want race discussed at all, and isn't even open to CONSIDERING whether racism might need to at least be an explanation on the table. What would King have thought of that?
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. -- Negroes Are Not Moving Too Fast, 1964
Heck is right that King's work is being sterilized of much of its substance to make him a less threatening and challenging figure, but I'd find Heck's criticism a lot more compelling if he were not doing the exact same thing. Just as he derides the planners of this monument for recasting King as the kind of guy who didn't work from Christ's teachings, Heck recasts King as the kind of guy who didn't want to have conversations about race and racism (that are uncomfortable, but mainly only for white people).
Heck has himself remade King in his own image, and while he's not the only one doing it, it puts him in a damn poor position to gripe at anybody else.