In my hometown of Atlanta, I grew up on a steady diet of Martin Luther King, Jr. If there was ever a black superhero, it was he. Even though it was my duty to quietly revere MLK like every other good boy and girl, I refused to drink the Kool-Aid. Looking at things through a post-Civil Rights lens in the 1990s, I just saw MLK as soft and lame.
It wasn’t until I became an adult and started reading his letters and listening to his sermons that I began realizing that MLK was far from the neutered lion school books made him out to be—He was an intelligent, articulate, God-driven agent of change.
Unlike people such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers who advocated violence and racial genocide, MLK used the System to change the System. That is so gangsta. It amazes me that one man’s words and actions could be so powerful that they made his enemies realize that they were in the wrong.
I wonder if he would be pleased with the state of America today. I think there would be some things at which he would marvel and others at which he would groan.
A 2006 episode of the Aaron McGruder cartoon, “Return of the King,” the Boondocks, actually explores this premise. In the episode, Martin Luther King, Jr. escapes the death intended by the assassin’s bullet. Instead he lies in a coma for 40 years.
When he wakes up, he’s amazed at the progress he sees, but he’s also taken aback by society’s devolution. In “Return of the King,” McGruder, through MLK, rags on the things that he thinks are anathema to black culture, such as BET and the movie “Soul Plane.”
The episode and the fact that we would be celebrating his birthday on Jan. 15 and Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 20, got me thinking about MLK and his legacy.
What real-world issues MLK would have actually railed against if he were alive right now? Glad you asked. Here are five of them.
Twerking in his nameMartin Luther King Jr.'s family outraged over image used for 'Freedom 2 Twerk' party
Recently, event promoters in Michigan had their contract cancelled after they handed out fliers for an event called “Freedom 2 Twerk.” The fliers featured a gang-sign throwing, Jesus piece-rocking MLK. The owner of the venue, in which the event was to be held, and MLK’s family, were not amused.
“For [the promoter] to think that this is okay, that this is what we have to stoop to appeal to our youth is completely ridiculous,” the venue owner said. “It's just ignorant.”
I think MLK would have been appalled as well. Though Martin Luther King, Jr. was not perfect (he may or may not have been a philanderer), he would have hated twerking. He would have hated it because he would have seen it as a sign of moral degradation because the one doing the twerking is being sexually objectified and acting like a buffoon, while the onlookers are perpetuating ignorance by their lack of action.
Every state in America (Okay, maybe not Utah), has an MLK Boulevard. These streets are primarily in “urban” areas with a sizeable African-American contingent. They often bear the signs of extreme urban and moral decay.
Though it’s nice that people want to keep hope and MLK’s memory alive by naming a street after him, I don’t think he would’ve liked it. King wasn’t about hero worship or his personal legacy. He had a mandate from God and was trying to change society in Christ’s name during his short time on earth. MLK was also about building, not destroying. Some of the neighborhoods that the street bearing his name runs through are cesspools of hunger, poverty, disease, broken homes, crime and drugs. With so many MLK Boulevards in disarray, we have to ask ourselves, what kind of message we are sending? Is it that Martin Luther King Jr. died for our freedom to live in ghettos or is it that we think his ministry was of little value?
The divide between rich and poor
Shortly before King died in 1968, he was planning a “Poor People's Campaign.” During this march on Washington, King was going to try to get the government to address the issue of economic injustice in the United States. King thought that funds being used for the Vietnam War and other endeavors abroad would have been better used domestically to effect change at home. In light this, there is no way that King would be happy with today’s divide between the rich and poor. He would be disgusted to know that some 40 years later, one percent of the world’s population controls half of the world’s wealth and that the billionaires that make up the “Forbes 400” list have as much wealth as the entire African-American population of the U.S.
In an early sermon preached while he was the associate pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King spoke out against the acceptance of segregation in churches. He said, “I am appalled that Eleven O’ Clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America.” That was in 1953. Sadly, it’s still true today. In our multicultural society, Christian people voluntarily practice apartheid. That’s why there are black churches, and white churches and Korean churches and Russian churches, when really, a church should be comprised of the Church—believers from all backgrounds who come together to worship God corporately.
People doing what’s right in their own eyes
In the book of Judges, before Israel had human kings, people in Israel did all kinds of heinous things-- Things that the law of God, which was the law of the land, specifically forbade such as polygamy, homosexuality and infanticide. After the author lays out the sin of Israel, the constant refrain in Judges is “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” I believe that if MLK was alive today, he would be shocked at how many things are becoming culturally and morally acceptable because they “feel” right. People no longer have that culturally instilled moral compass that MLK had as a Baptist minister. He would have thought today’s people are blind and on a slippery slope especially when it comes to things such as gay marriage and abortion. He would have also been against people trying to use the Civil Rights Movement to bolster agendas he would have seen as depraved.
Modern Americans are hero worshippers. We love to put people on platforms and worship white-washed versions of them. When we do this, we lose sight of the things that made them great. One of the greatest things about MLK was his morality. His moral views, which were informed by the Bible, were the light that helped him realize that America, the so-called Christian nation, was an apostate and not living according to its racial and socio-economic mandate. If we put down our gold-clad MLK images and view him in the light of history, we can begin to think his thoughts after him and realize that his “dream” has been deferred, and we need to begin working to make it a reality.