Throughout the draconian presidency of Donald J. Trump, he has also served as executive branch of racists and the white supremacists that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to and fought against throughout his painfully short, yet prophetic, 39 years. The narrative of dread and deception, fear-mongering and political neglect of the Trump presidency are not new to America as a country, or to black people as its maligned inhabitants. It is through King’s less celebrated voice that each of us is challenged to examine the demagogy of racism, white supremacy, capitalism, corporate oligarchy, and marginalization of the poor and working class.
We sit in the stains of a soiled America, one which King’s most sharp, yet often ignored, critiques prepared us for. King’s brilliance has gifted our fractured nation’s consciousness with both hindsight and foresight, thus mitigating our ability to be surprised by the state sanctioned carnage of black bodies of 2020 or the insurrection that took place last week on the nation’s political hallowed ground. The siege orchestrated by a cross section of nationalists who arrived in Washington D.C. to rally in support of Trump; the amalgamation of Former Alabama Governor George Wallace and Former Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor, two men who sought to terrorize and suppress the liberties of black bodies, nor were they fans of white brothers and sisters of good hearts and conscience. It is through King’s ladder offerings we see a prelude to Trump’s America and are astutely reminded that this is who we are. King, unlike a cadre of today’s current political and civic leaders, unapologetically refused to assuage the traumas of racism and white supremacy. I doubt he would be pacifying us with shallow tweets or stern assertions that our eyes and ears are betraying us. Until the nation can acknowledge, restore, and radically reimagine our perverse social and educational systems, promises that better is around the corner are empty. King told us who we were, just as Ida B. Wells held up the mirror before him as Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker worked on the ground to protect black bodies. Once again, America’s curtain has been yanked away uncovering the extent to which racism and white supremacy have warped the psyche of those who base their value and entitlement on their whiteness. Perhaps more tragically the toxic beliefs seep into far too many black minds and spirits, resulting in blind subjugation and digestion of the tenets of white supremacy. This mess of polluted thinking has created degenerative school districts and lopsided systems of support; entities lacking the fortitude and ingenuity to provide transformative curriculum and community investment that can change the trajectory of lives.
The America which King vividly painted for us is eerily similar to Trump’s dominion, as it has emboldened the offspring of Wallace and Conner in their belief that the country is being stolen by those deemed inferior to them. Voter participation, equal representation and the demand that black lives matter have pushed them to a boiling point — the pot being constantly stirred by their drama and TV ratings addicted demagogue. Great irony lies in knowing nationalists’ fears are the consequence of the systemic oppression they vehemently disavow, while equity for black and brown people threaten the privileges they deny exist. The hypocrisy peaking as they unleashed their fury on the blue lives previously exalted, attacks in direct juxtaposition to the patriotism of which they have chosen to plant their proverbial Confederate flags. Can we honestly be shocked that once again Black peoples calls for justice have been met with brutal force, while the unscrupulous “patriots” had barricades moved to aid their breach? The image of Capital police officer Eugene Goodman left out isolated in the cold halls of the Capitol is a symbol; holding back dozens of rioters, putting himself between the violence and lawmakers sheltering from risk.
Just as King sought to address the morality of the clergy in “A Letter in a Birmingham Jail”, Trump and his enablers have conversely corralled a large subset of Americans who believe that morality is only sustainable by castigating the country’s least desirable: often black and brown folks. In Dr. King’s “The Other America”, he brilliantly breathes air into being mindful that the erosion does not merely occur with one individual but is intrinsically interconnected to our political system, and other systems that exert power over others, such as law enforcement. A system of purported law and order designed to clinch the reins of over-policing more tightly around the necks of people of color, those suffering from mental illness or desperate to meet their most basic needs. We must not be afraid to look our country in the face and ask, “why are we still here?” Like mass incarceration and gun violence, the pandemic has ravaged our country at rates that dwarf the impact on other nations. While plagued by COVID-19 this country is long-suffering from a rabid case of Affluenza; a near 250-year penchant for absolving the rich and/or white of their greed fueled crimes, assaults, and murders, while publicly smearing, falsely accusing, disproportionately imprisoning and killing the poor and black. We are a nation that is morally corrupt and finds more solace in defending domestic terrorism than lifting and elevating the progress made by wins of A Black Preacher and a Jewish Man from the South. This is who we are, we are a nation that sees black protestors as bearers of violence and white violence as protest. As we march on, we can look to Dr. King teachings to undergird the unapologetic conversations critical to racial reconciliation.
Tony Clark is a Professor of African-American Studies and Board President of The My Brother’s Keeper Task Force of Cambridge, Mass