The great self-evident truth of the Left.
Celebrating MLK Day
Let's keep paeans to racial violence out of it.
Given the name associated with the day, you’d think a good start toward a Martin Luther King Day celebration might be some detailed and objective history of the man’s life, his ideas, and his contribution to American culture and history.
And indeed, somewhat surprisingly, one can still find at least some slight evidence of this approach in American media culture. NBC News, for example, recommends perhaps reading some of his writings or watching a documentary about his life.
But if we were serious about commemorating King’s life and legacy, we would start MLK Day celebrations with historical contextualization.
For reasons that have much to do with who writes the histories—that is, a body of academic historians who skew precipitously far left in their politics—it is widely believed that the situation of blacks in American society was more or less unrelentingly bleak until the main period of King’s activist life, specifically the mid-1960s when the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were passed.
Socioeconomic data suggest, however, that black progress was continuous throughout the twentieth century, and that the black poverty rate fell much more radically in the two decades between 1940 and 1960–that is, before the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and all the other Great Society programs–than it did in the sixties or afterwards. Those data are discussed in detail in Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom’s America in Black and White.
The situation for blacks in the U.S. was somewhat more complicated during the time of King’s life than is often presented. An objective look at the central object of King’s political attention through most of his activist career—the Jim Crow racial caste system in the southern states that systematically discriminated against blacks by, for example, preventing them from voting and relegating them to a racially segregated set of public institutions—shows that this regime has disappeared without a trace. King’s work certainly played a part in ending that, and MLK Day should emphasize the fact that victory was achieved here.
Further, and more troublingly, if we were serious about the facts of King’s legacy, we would note that the logic of the civil rights movement in which he participated led to a place far beyond the ending of that unjust Jim Crow system, and that it in fact created a new regime of racial politics that has demonstrably harmed this society.
Christopher Caldwell’s excellent book The Age of Entitlement is one of a number of careful works that demonstrate how the movement in which King participated led to an assault on founding American political principles. Caldwell argues that a new, phantom Constitution was created by the political success of the civil rights movement, and this has wound up restricting or even eliminating basic Constitutional freedoms, including the freedom of association. The core of the affirmative action regime it created is based on a racially discriminatory mechanism for populating educational and occupational positions that runs demonstrably against American preferences that meritocracy should be how such positions are filled.
The manic pursuit of diversity in all social fields that was produced in the movement in which King participated has yielded few of the promised social benefits and instead, as demonstrated in a landmark study on the effects of diversity by Harvard’s Robert Putnam, has exacerbated tensions and conflicts between groups. Since King’s era, this country has embarked on a de facto reparations project, redistributing huge sums of public dollars to black Americans, largely to those at the lowest end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Yet this has not eliminated racial disparities in outcomes, and this is almost certainly not because of persistent racism but because of the precipitous rise of single parenthood in the American family, which began in the wake of the sixties and which has hit blacks much harder than other groups, though the malign social phenomenon is spreading rapidly: the United States leads the world in out-of-wedlock births.
A fair analysis of King’s legacy on his national holiday would begin here. But on college campuses, MLK celebrations have almost nothing to do with this.
There, the holiday has morphed into a creature that King himself would perhaps not recognize. Institutions of higher education are increasingly disinterested in merely objective historical celebration of things like the elimination of Jim Crow. Instead, the worldview that is increasingly dominant on campus advocates for permanent revolution, an eternal push to move “forward.”
MLK Day has been fully incorporated into the permanent revolution. On campuses, there is almost no acknowledgment that the main opponent of King’s work was vanquished. Nor is the societal integration and assimilation he championed in evidence in the putative celebration of his ideas. The permanent revolution has moved on to the ideology of antiracism, which in practice means the constant denigration of whites as racist monsters and perpetrators of structural racism and the advocacy for the abolition of all existing social institutions in the pursuit of racial utopia.
Examples of this fall abundantly from the college trees every year in mid-January. At the university where I am employed, for example, several faculty members will this year lead a discussion of the work of the “seminal figure in the Black Arts Movement” Amiri Baraka. Baraka, who was born LeRoi Jones, is indeed the author of some remarkable material, and the people who want to celebrate his legacy are safe in their assumption that none of the students on campus currently know anything about the substance of that work.
Two exemplary pieces of Baraka’s perspective on “Black Arts” are contained in an anthology of radical black writing he co-edited, Black Fire. In the poem “Black Art,” he outlined his view of black poetry:
Poems are bullshit unless they are teeth…piled on a step…We want poems like fists beating niggers out of Jocks or dagger poems in the slimy bellies of the owner-jews. Black poems to smear on girdlemamma mulatto bitches whose brains are red jelly stuck between ‘lizabeth taylor’s toes. Stinking Whores! We want “poems that kill.” Assassin poems, Poems that shoot guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys and take their weapons leaving them dead with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland. Knockoff poems for dope selling wops and slick halfwhite politicians…Setting fire and death to whities ass. Look at the Liberal Spokesman for the jews clutch his throat & puke himself into eternity…We want a black poem. And a Black World…Let All Black People Speak This Poem Silently or LOUD.
In the same volume, Baraka included his “morality play” titled “Madheart.” It consists of a conversation between a black man, a white woman, and several black women. The white woman character is named “Devil Lady” and described as “[f]emale with elaborately carved white devil mask.”
At the outset, the black man tells Devil Lady: “You will die only when I kill you. I raise my hand to strike…Strike. Strike…Bitch devil in the whistling bowels of the wind. Blind snow creature…” She replies “My pussy rules the world thru newspapers.” In short order, she “lies in the middle of the stage with a spear, or many arrows stuck in her stomach and hole” and he “stand[s] just a few feet away from the skewered white woman.”
In the wake of the 9//11 attacks, Baraka wrote “Somebody Blew Up America,” a veritable chef-d’oeuvre of the anti-white, anti-Semitic black nationalist craft. The half-literate rant vindicates the attack on the U.S. by insinuating that America, whites, and the West have contributed nothing but destruction to the history of the world. It also engages in conspiratorial narratives about Israeli and Jewish involvement in the attack:
Who made the bombs Who made the guns
Who bought the slaves, who sold them
Who called you them names Who say Dahmer wasn’t insane
Who? Who? Who?
Who stole Puerto Rico Who stole the Indies, the Philipines, Manhattan Australia & The Hebrides Who forced opium on the Chinese
Who the Beast in Revelations Who 666 Who know who decide Jesus get crucified
Who the Devil on the real side Who got rich from Armenian genocide
Who the biggest terrorist Who change the bible Who killed the most people Who do the most evil Who don’t worry about survival
Who have the colonies Who stole the most land Who rule the world Who say they good but only do evil Who the biggest executioner
Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion And cracking they sides at the notion
Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers To stay home that day Why did Sharon stay away?
Who? Who? Who?”
In 2002, Baraka was appointed Poet Laureate of New Jersey, and a month later he read this poem at a public festival, sparking outrage. Though he was stripped of the title, he learned no lessons from this, and read the poem many times in public in subsequent years.
This is who Bucknell University presents to its students as admirable and worthy of attention during our MLK celebration.
Our campus will also welcome Mariame Kaba for a presentation during the MLK events this year. Kaba is an activist and self-proclaimed abolitionist who advocates for “dismantling the prison industrial complex,” which includes the abolition of police.
In her Times piece “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police,” the title of which leaves nothing to the imagination, she wrote: “When people, especially white people, consider a world without the police, they envision a society as violent as our current one, merely without law enforcement — and they shudder. As a society, we have been so indoctrinated with the idea that we solve problems by policing and caging people that many cannot imagine anything other than prisons and the police as solutions to violence and harm. People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.”
The protests she is describing were the George Floyd riots of the summer of 2020, which produced billions of dollars in property loss, dozens of civilian and police deaths, and thousands of wounded officers.
These examples could be multiplied endlessly, at campuses around the country, and they are not exceptional.
The push toward anti-white racism and the replacement of institutions of criminal justice with a hallucinatory socialist utopia has expanded rapidly since the George Floyd riots of 2020. Martin Luther King celebrations are just one of the key sites on campuses in which this agenda is imposed on hapless students.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.