In a recent op ed piece in Truthdig, called "Turning King's Dream Into a Nightmare," one of my favorite authors and columnists, Chris Hedges, makes the same telling points I wanted to make in this piece but does it so much better than I could ever hope to do that I will simply quote him as introduction to making a few points about the King Holiday of my own.
Hedges says in the opening paragraph of his piece:
"Martin Luther King Day has become a yearly ritual to turn a black radical into a red-white-and-blue icon. It has become a day to celebrate ourselves for "overcoming" racism and "fulfilling" King's dream. It is a day filled with old sound bites about little black children and little white children that, given the [current] state of America, would enrage King. Most of our great social reformers, once they are dead, are kidnapped by the power elite and turned into harmless props of American glory. King, after all, was not only a socialist but fiercely opposed to American militarism and acutely aware, especially at the end of his life, that racial justice without economic justice was a farce." Hedges goes on to say (quoting Professor James Cone) that "King's words have been appropriated by the people who rejected him in the 1960s, so by making his birthday a national holiday, everybody claims him, even though they opposed him while he was alive. They have frozen King in 1963 with his "I have Dream' speech.'
What Hedges does not say is that even with a black man elected solely to preside over the "Bush wreckage," America remains a Leopard unable to change its racist spots. All the talk on this King's Day (for instance, in that abomination held by Tom Jointer and Chris Matthews on Texas Southern University campus, called "Obama's Nation"), is about how much progress has already been made towards better race relations since King's death -- Obama's election being exhibit number one. Malcolm X has the most famous retort about so called progress (Hedges also quotes it in his piece): "You can't drive a knife into a man's back nine inches, pull it out six inches, and call it progress."
I believe Dr. King would have seen contemporary racial progress in America (even with Obama's election) in exactly the same way as Malcolm saw it, for towards the end of both of their untimely deaths they had closed ranks completely on the meaning of and the persistence of white racism.
I believe rather than take rationalizing racist rhetoric and phony opinion polls seriously (mostly from progressive elites like Jointer and Matthews themselves) and a lot of feel-good talk whose sole basis is the further parsing of the same meaningless opinion polls, both Dr. King and Malcolm would have been relying on the objective evidence still oozing out of the utter despair of the black ghettoes: the disgraceful but culturally ignored centerpieces of every American city.
There hidden in plain sight, we still see living side-by-side in "Obama Nation," with his fragile presidential mandate and all, a nightmare that (to steal a phrase from Frederick Douglass) would embarrass and disgrace a nation of savages. The state of American inner cities and schools could only be tolerated by a modern nation steeped in a history of racism. They would certainly have shocked and made even Dr. King and Malcolm X gasp, and frankly embarrasses all modern Western nations, that would never tolerate such public blights.
Yet, even on King's Birthday, no one mentions this "ongoing American social Holocaust," a travesty without end that exists in plain sight. The only thing that comes close to it is the Polish ghettoes of World War II used to isolate Jews before shipping them off to the German concentration camps. So accustom to it are we, that the virtual social meltdown in the heart of our nation does not raise even a single eyebrow of an ordinary white American.
To wit: (1) We live in a nation that due to the prison-industrial complex and the draconian cocaine laws, places every ninth black male youth in prison; (2) a nation where predatory lending practices engineered and directed at blacks and other minorities primarily, under the thin pretext that they were intended to allow everyone a chance to own a piece of the American dream, caused a complete melt-down of the global economic system; (3) where unemployment in America's inner cities hovers over 20% and in many cities it tops most Third World nations by going as high as 50%; (4) where white racist resistance to legally-mandated integration of American public schools (and a conservative Court reversal as a 50th anniversary present), has effectively ended public education as we know it, returning it (at least in most of America's largest cities) to the pre-segregation days before the 1954 Decision; as a result, (and as the Kerner Commission Report predicted 50 years ago), (5) American has become two separate nations, one black one white; one rich, one poor living side by side with a black President as if all this were normal?
Worse yet however, is the fact that all races are in denial about the realities of these facts. And each year on Dr. King's birthday, we come together in a public orgy of collective lies, pretending not to see what is palpably obvious to all that are not blind to the "racial justification games" America plays on itself: That this unsteady racial modus vivendi cannot possibly hold forever.
How to Fix it?
I suggest that we change the name of the King Holiday and henceforth refer to it as the "Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Truth and Reconciliation Holiday." And that the whole month of February be set aside so that morally sane, anti-racist white people can come before a black audience (for instance a black Church congregation) (or even a white one) and confess their racist sins and ask for their, and God's forgiveness. And then for them to make a pledge of their time, money and energy to work within their own white community to help end the continuing racial holocaust.
That way, those whites who are truly interested in racial reconciliation can separate themselves from the passive-aggressive and more active racists, who can then no longer freely hide behind them, or behind Dr. King's message of Christian love; they can no longer ignore the convergence of the messages of King and Malcolm, two great black leaders, of different religious faiths. Only then can a process of healing finally begin in earnest. And it will occur where it is most needed, within the racist white American heart. This way, America can impute new meaning into Black History month and make a small step towards really restoring Dr. King's dream.
If it can be done in South Africa: why not in "freedom-loving," "well-intentioned," "self-declared non-racist" America?