Another Martin Luther King Jr. Day is upon us and, once again, I’m bracing myself for the dizzying, day long onslaught of self-serving hypocrisy. Ah, yes, the annual online showmanship of Republicans posting key quotes from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech (because they’ve never read or heard anything else by the man) while they actively work to strip voting rights away from people who look like Dr. King. If the times in which we’re currently living weren’t so terrifying, this would almost be hilarious. Almost.
I’m just here to say: miss me with your fake fuzzy feelings for Dr. King if you spend the other 364.9 days of the year suppressing voting rights, undermining our democracy, or promoting the Big Lie.
It feels good to get that off my chest. Not that I expect anyone to dial down their hypocrisy on my account. But it just seems especially bad this year, doesn’t it, considering these “leaders” could vote on bills at the federal level to secure the voting rights of every eligible American and instead are choosing to do nothing while a slew of states pass legislation making it even harder to vote.
That’s exactly the world Dr. King was talking about in his famous speech, though, right? The one in which he mentions doing whatever’s necessary to concentrate power in the hands of the wealthy few while the lowly masses go unheard and uncounted.
I don’t find it hyperbolic to say that I fear for our democracy. I worry about how weak it has been revealed to be in the stark light of day, how easily it could crumble beneath the jackboots of those who are willing to resort to shocking violence in order to subvert an election and get what they want. These people, and the politicians who purposely whip them into a nationalist frenzy, are the ones who wouldn’t have stood with Dr. King when he was alive and advocating for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They are no great supporters of equality, or voting rights, or racial justice. Are we supposed to believe that they care about the words of Dr. King or what he stood for, even for a single convenient day out of the year?
We’ve run a terrifying, demoralizing gauntlet of death and disease over the last 2 years. In that time, these so-called “leaders” have more clearly revealed and defined themselves, their motives and beliefs on display in a way we’ve not seen before. Some of these “leaders” have stopped even giving lip service to the sacred ideal of one person, one vote. They no longer bother with pretense. I have to admit, I appreciate their candor, though I find it chilling, because if these people had their way, I would lose the ability to cast a ballot, as would millions who look like me. But, despite their cheerful chipping away at the foundation of our democracy, these people (or their staff) will still find a few seconds to indulge in performative reverence for one of the greatest Civil Rights leaders this country has ever known.
To them, I ask: why bother, after everything you’ve done and said? After everything you are doing and saying right now, in this moment? Leave the duty of remembering the brave Americans who fought for freedom and equality under the law to those of us still fighting to bring these ideals even closer to fruition. If you don’t love what Dr. King stood for, then stop pretending to love the man himself, even if it is the carefully whitewashed version. You would have been repulsed by who he was in life, and he would have been repulsed by what you are: people who would oppress anyone, tell any lie, tear down any cherished institution in order to cleave to power.
So instead of playacting respect for Martin Luther King, Jr., just keep his name out of your mouth. Leave the celebration of his legacy to those of us who actually celebrate it with our whole hearts and weary bones besides. Those of us who are the beneficiaries of the work he did in his lifetime. Those of us who cherish his legacy and strive to honor it in all we do. Those of us who are in this struggle and won’t stop until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Until one person really does mean one vote.