MLK and the Black Misleaders

Check out the Black Agenda Report website: http://blackagendareport.com/

Submitted by Bryan K. Bullock on Tue, 01/19/2016

“The heads of the nation’s leading organizations, the NAACP, National Action Network, Urban League and others, have sacrificed the needs of their constituencies in order to support President Obama.”

It is time once again to examine the ideas of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But rather than examine the “state of the dream,” which focuses primarily on the so-called “I have a dream” speech, the focus should instead be focused on the issues that King himself said were the most pressing problems in American society. Martin Luther King identified three “evils” that he said had to be addressed and/or destroyed in order for America to live up to its ideals. Those evils, as he identified them, were extreme materialism, militarism and racism. Those three evils are as omnipresent in American society as they were during the years that King spoke about them. In many ways, they are more entrenched than ever. Also, in many ways, the assassination of King and the absence of an uncompromising successor, has opened the door to a brand of religious “leadership” in the African American community that does not see King’s evils as, well, evil.

By extreme materialism, King was referring to extreme capitalism. His invections against capitalism have fallen on deaf ears in far too many Black churches. His gospel of feeding the hungry and demanding that the government eradicate poverty, direct action activism has been replaced by prosperity gospel, where black Christians are encouraged to look at the bible as a manual on how to get rich or worse, how to make one’s pastor wealthy. The individualist nature of this type of message, the gospel of “get rich or die trying,” is in direct contradiction to the movement and community building gospel of King. A man who donated his Noble Peace Prize money to his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and who died leaving his family almost penniless, is probably rolling over in his grave at the transformation of his message that Christians must confront the capitalist causes of poverty into the message that the cause of poverty is one’s personal inability to pray hard enough and tithe generously enough. The gospel of mega-churches and millionaire pastors who flaunt their wealth in the face of their parishioners flies directly in the face of King’s mission of serving the poor and confronting the powerful.

In the current black religious paradigm, extreme materialism is a virtue, not an evil.

“It is implausible that King would have held his tongue regarding the evils of imperialism and war, simply for the sake of supporting the nation’s first black president.”

King determined that militarism within the context of the U.S. assault on the people of Vietnam, but also as a corollary of his war on poverty. He infused anti-colonial ideas throughout many of his speeches. In his Nobel Peace Prize speech, he condemned apartheid in Azania, then known as South Africa. He was present and spoke at the inauguration of Kwame Nkrumah. In a speech delivered in 1956, King linked the Bandung Conference with the conditions in Montgomery, Alabama. He struggled with his own inner circle over the decision to criticize America’s war on Vietnam. In the end, he decided that he must speak out even though the Johnson administration had been very supportive of him and President Johnson had pushed through the Civil Rights of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This also is a line of demarcation between King and the current crop of alleged leaders. It is implausible that King would have held his tongue regarding the evils of imperialism and war, simply for the sake of supporting the nation’s first black president. Given that he risked his own legacy, alliances with other organizations and support from the government to take this principled stand, he surely would not have withheld his criticism to appease whoever occupied the White House. Lyndon Johnson signed two of the most important laws in the last century and still King remained true to his conscious and condemned his foreign policy.

Those who today claim the mantle of “leadership” are differential to power, acquiesce to it and in many ways, are an adjunct to it. They betray King’s legacy in their explicit and implicit support of U.S. imperialism and wars by condoning and making excuses for the current President’s rampant militarism in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Africa and the drone assassinations of Americans and of civilians in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The U.S.’s uncritical support of the occupation of Palestine by Israel and the massive, daily human rights abuses inherent in the occupation, would cause likely King to call for its end. Black religious leadership who think King’s message of “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” would not apply to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people, mis-read King’s life and legacy. Although he likely would not have condoned the armed response of the early Palestinian Liberation Army and current day Hamas, rather than simply argue, “what would you do if someone was shooting rockets at your home” as President Obama stated, he would expanded that critique to question how one react if they lived under a decades long occupation that has produced hopelessness and death in the land of the Palestinian Jew, Jesus Christ.

“The gospel of mega-churches and millionaire pastors who flaunt their wealth in the face of their parishioners flies directly in the face of King’s mission of serving the poor and confronting the powerful.”

The courage to keep power at a distance and to never have an identification with or relationship to power was proof of King’s over-riding commitment to the people. The heads of the nation’s leading organizations, the NAACP, National Action Network, Urban League and others, have sacrificed the needs of their constituencies in order to support President Obama. Sharpton and others made a point to declare early in the presidency of President Obama, that they would not criticize him. Going beyond a refusal to criticize, they have attempted to silence critics by vociferously defending him no matter what he does or doesn’t do for their constituents. They are not the “creative dissenters” King called for. Nor are they the “fearless voices” that are needed in these times to “be the only sound stronger than the blasts of bombs and the clamor of war hysteria.” Instead, they are the enablers of war.  President Obama’s declaration that he believes in American exceptionalism to his core would surely have drawn a rebuke from King who would have called on him to end America’s reign as the “greatest purveyor of violence” on the earth. Few of established black clergy, whether its T.D. Jakes or the aforementioned Sharpton, have admonished President Obama regarding his plans to spend almost $8 billion dollars to modernize the U.S’s nuclear weapons. King, of course, had made it plain that, “The church cannot be silent while mankind faces the threat of nuclear annihilation. If the church is true to her mission, she must call for an end to the arms race.” Perhaps the black church is not true to its mission.

King’s other reason for opposing militarism was because of its great costs. Like Eisenhower before him, King knew that America’s vast military machine and imperial outreach, came at the expense of spending the public’s tax dollars at home for the aid of the poor. He was clear that, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Military spending under the Obama administration continues unabated. The military budget in the United States is $763.9 billion for fiscal year 2016. It makes military spending the second largest federal government expenditure after Social Security. It is a larger share of the budget that Medicare or Medicaid. The U.S. remains the world’s biggest exporter of major arms, accounting for 31% of global arms sales. President Obama has proposed a “grand bargain” which would have reduced spending for Social Security and signed budgets that did little to increase funding for social programs like the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal representation in civil cases for the poor. In fact, expenditures on social programs designed to lift Americans out of poverty have been cut consistently over the last decade. There hasn’t been a call for a Great Society program from black clergy, black civic organizations nor from the black President.

“King knew that America’s vast military machine and imperial outreach, came at the expense of spending the public’s tax dollars at home for the aid of the poor.”

King would have been consistent, as he was before his assassination, that the federal government end the occupation of foreign lands and use the peace dividend saved from occupation and war, to secure the financial welfare of the poor in America. It is doubtful that the new “threat” of international terrorism would have swayed King from this position. He likely would have seen the massive expenditures of taxpayer money on homeland security and military incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq as war “that seeks to turn the clock of history back and perpetuate white colonialism.” Which in turn, he knew, would continue to perpetuate poverty, racism and discrimination against the “others” in American society who do not benefit from white supremacy.

The evil of racism is just as omnipresent in America as it always has been. The televised murders and beatings of black men, women and children by the police are just the most stark examples of our vulnerability in this society. The lead poisoning of majority black Flint, Michigan, and the water “shortage” in majority black Detroit, illustrate that African descendant people are not valued in the states where they reside. The rampant crime that is allowed to exist in job starved black communities, the mass incarceration of black people, the framing of black people who are sent to jail for up to 20 years only to be exonerated in their old age, the military response to fed up African American youth and the sub-human characterizations of blacks in popular media, reveal to us clearly, that racism is just as deadly in America as it ever has been. The open disrespect of the country’s first black president and the calls to “take our country back” from large sectors of the white population, lays bare the cold reality of how blackness is despised, even if one is the black face of the empire.

The triple evils continue unabated due in large part to another set of triple evils. First, the assassination and imprisonment of people like Malcolm, Martin, Huey, Medgar, Mumia, Assata, Dhoruba, Bunche and far too many other freedom fighters to mention. The jailing and outright killing of these leaders paved the way for the state to impose its own brand of “leadership” on the black community, with disastrous consequences. The second evil is the expansion of the very same state apparatus responsible for the first evil, which has expanded its police, surveillance and military power while weakening the power of the people who cannot now effectively fight back against its increasing encroachment. And third, to a large extent, the “evil” of apathy and/or powerlessness that has descended on the African American community which results in acceptance of conditions that are, in fact, unacceptable. The third evil is itself by and large a result of the first evil.

There is in fact chaos in the community, but King gave us a firm example of what principled leadership should look like and who are the real enemies of our progress. We need only read his actual words and search for the King within us to be consistent and bold in our opposition to imperialism (no matter who the imperialist is), poverty and racism.

Attorney Bryan K. Bullock practices law in Merrillville, Indiana.

 

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