For most Portlanders, the holiday legally known known as The Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr marks the unofficial end of the holiday season and creates a viable reason to reprimand neighbors for still having their Christmas decorations up.
Personally, MLK Day means it’s time for McDonald’s to introduce new commercials with Black people singing joyously and it gets me thinking as to how someone’s birthday could be on Monday every year. It also marks the start of the roughly 45 day season in which Caucasians (is that what you all like to be called these days?) feel comfortable asking open-ended questions about race. This gets especially interesting here in the Portland area as there are still folks out here who can’t even claim a single, solitary Black friend. That said, allow me to preemptively respond to the most common question: “What do you think of Doctor King?”
First of all, Martin Luther “The Kang” Jr was a beast. Make no mistake about it, he was far more than a prolific negro orator with a famous speech. This was a man who, in the face of constant violence and unrelenting threats against himself and his family, led millions of people to stand up and be recognized as full-fledged human citizens. He was murdered for his deeds less than 50 years ago. Nonetheless, he is discussed as a polar opposite of explosive, revolutionary leaders such as Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey.
Despite having been arrested more often than Kenny Mack, despite being the brilliant strategist that put Rosa Parks on the bus, MLK is frequently viewed as a peaceful shepherd of a man who led faithful Christian Black lambs to sit in segregated diners singing church hymns until the police peacefully arrested them. The beat downs are hardly discussed. Sometimes, the evil Confederate police attacked them with fire hoses and dogs. Let’s not discuss the bullets and bricks though. But why not? Because MLK is marketable, but only as a nice guy, not as a decorated soldier.
MY favorite American revolutionary is Nat Turner, a slave who taught himself to read and led his fellow plantation workers in a bloody revolt in Southampton, Virginia way back in 1831. Though captured and killed a couple of days after he and his militia freed hundreds of slaves, his daring attempt spawned multiple uprisings throughout the South, influencing Lincoln to sign the famously overrated Emancipation Proclamation 32 years later–allowing Union armies to conscript Black soldiers as they overtook Confederate lands. But guys like Nat don’t get holidays, in fact, guys like Nat don’t even get their picture taken before they are flayed, beheaded, and buried in secret graves (I call it the Ché Treatment). Allowing folks like Nat to become heroes is way too risky.
Black Jesus is OK, but Black Muhammad is a problem.
So on the good doctor’s designated Monday of celebration, know that I respect and appreciate The King for all of his unspoken sacrifices that allow me to work for a fair wage, eat at fancy restaurants, and date white women if I so choose. Shoot… I could even go golfing if I wanted! More importantly though, this is a day for all of the faceless Black heroes that will never get their due attention in the history books. Martin was the front man, and I appreciate him giving us a face and a voice that permeated mainstream (i.e., white) culture.
Happy MLK Day.