Our Annual Race Ritual


Speaking with a Martian a few moments ago, I explained that Martin Luther King Day is an annual American ritual where we sit back aghast at the latest antics white idiots and/or reasonably intelligent racists come up with to show us the true meaning and continuing import of a national holiday dedicated to Dr. King, a man who achieved many things, embodied a movement far greater than himself and managed to do these things without living to the age of 40.

Today Arizona State University suspended its chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity after the frat hosted a “MLK Black Party” in which “students dressed in basketball jerseys, displayed gang signs and drank from watermelon cups, according to photos obtained by CBS.”

Then there’s the state Senate candidate down in Florida who says he’s past impeachment. It’s time, he says, for President Obama to be hanged from a tree by his neck until he’s dead – a practice commonly known as lynching.

Then there’s the good folks at the Multnomah County GOP in Oregon who decided to raffle off a rifle in honor or Dr. King just before Ted Cruz’s father delivers their keynote address. Responding to the controversy, the group notes that today the question is whether we’re really all slaves to overweening federal government.

Then there’s Sarah Palin who invited President Obama to honor King’s legacy by agreeing to stop “playing the race card,” because one of the main themes of the dream King enunciated in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail was that black people should stop complaining so much.

This isn’t to say that nothing has changed in this country. It’s changed massively. Perhaps one of the deepest changes, only becoming truly clear over the last decade, is that the haters and the bigots and the folks who just aren’t ready for an America where whites are merely the largest, wealthiest and most powerful ethnic group as opposed to being the overwhelming majority and more or less controlling everything are on the declining rearview mirror end of history. Indeed, that explains what seems like a paradox, which is that precisely as the majority becomes more comfortable with a more genuinely multiracial society those who aren’t comfortable at all up the volume of their resistance.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t leave you with something I read recently that is simply the best thing I’ve read in a long time about what Dr. King’s legacy is and what the day in his honor stands for. It was written back in 2011 by a diarist at DailyKos. It’s quite simply great. And in an era in which King has been so normalized, mainstreamized, commodified and owned by the great unbounded national consensus, it brought me back to what this story is all about.

Here’s just one paragraph near the end …

So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war-like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on. But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears. So please don’t tell me that Martin Luther King’s dream has not been achieved, unless you knew what racial terrorism was like back then and can make a convincing case you still feel it today. If you did not go through that transition, you’re not qualified to say that the dream was not accomplished.

But really, read the whole thing.