What to Say When ‘Wypipo’ Bring Up MLK

Martin Luther King Jr. (AFP/Getty Images)
Martin Luther King Jr. (AFP/Getty Images)

Whenever a black person diverges from the path of respectability and voices an opinion contrary to the mainstream narrative, the keepers of the status quo will quickly shout them down with the same, recognizable refrain. Sometimes it sounds so familiar, one might think the people who sit atop America’s totem pole must have trained one another in how to regurgitate the same lie.

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Apparently, the first course in the school for White Young People of Influence, Privilege and Opportunity (W.Y.P.I.P.O University, founded by Dwight Mann) is “Twisting History 101.” The freshman-level class teaches its fair-haired students how to distort any argument raised by a person of color questioning white supremacy. Upon completion, students are equipped with the methodology to deftly dodge anyone who dares to challenge their privilege and white entitlement.

The final exam is a simple, short-answer quiz that lists every method of resistance Africans in America have used to oppose oppression and discrimination since the first slaves slipped off their chains and grabbed machetes. It is easy for WYPIPO U’s students to pass this course because the solution to every problem on the exam is the same. They simply stare the black person in the face, and with merciful eyes and a voice brimming with make-believe empathy, ask:

“Is that what Martin Luther King would have wanted?”

Wypipo love Martin Luther King Jr.

Since his death, they have managed to whitewash his legacy and transform him from a revolutionary willing to bleed and die for what he believed in, to a meek, milquetoast orator who fits their narrative of the sweet, submissive hero who begged them for a seat at the table.

Our history is filled with revolutionaries they have made into respectables. They don’t build statues in your memory until they have distanced you from your rabble-rousing past. They are well-practiced at turning lions into mice, and part of their process is dilution. They somehow shortened King’s philosophy of “nonviolent resistance” to “nonviolence,” conveniently leaving out the most important part of the equation:

Martin Luther King resisted.

Fox News commentator and spokesman for white people Bill O’Reilly recently claimed that MLK would “not participate in a Black Lives Matter protest.” Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill name-dropped the civil rights leader’s name when he tried to make the convoluted argument that automatically registering people to vote “cheapen[ed]” King’s work by rewarding folks who were “too sorry to get up off of their rear to go register to vote.” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed must have audited the class at WYPIPO U, instead of learning his own history, because he posited that “Dr. King would never take a freeway.”

The list goes on. We have neither the time nor the bandwidth to catalog the times people of privilege have used MLK’s name to twist black resistance into pacification. You should just know these people are liars. They are cockamamy con men. The people who ask the question of what would MLK have wanted will put you in a choke hold and try to convince you it is a hug.

Whenever they bring up Martin Luther King Jr., you should first remind them to keep his name out of their mouth. Then, tell them Martin Luther King Jr. consulted with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and with black activists and leaders across the country, but you don’t remember any accounts of him taking any orders from white people—even the president. Remind them that every time someone tried to keep Martin quiet, he yelled louder.

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Ask them if they heard about the summer King and Rosa Parks crippled an entire city’s transportation system by boycotting. Ask them if they ever read about the time policemen, Klansmen and mean white men with sticks and chains bloodied marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and King said, “Next Sunday, I’m marching with you.” Ask them how the hell they think they’d still be talking about him 50 years after his death if he didn’t upset an apple cart or two.

Maybe they’ll understand if you use Dr. King’s exact words. Perhaps you should sit them down and read the passage from King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail (pdf) when he wrote that he knows “through painful experience that freedom is never given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

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When you run into a graduate of WYPIPO U, do not fall for their freshman-level tricks. They want to convince you to be docile and timid, like their fictional historical painting of Dr. King. When they ask you what Martin would have wanted, they are ostensibly trying to shame you into submission.

Never forget that the only reason your people have gotten this far was because we didn’t listen to them. Explain that Martin said the only people worse than the White Citizens Council and the KKK were the white moderates who say, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” Remind them that the alt-right white supremacists who made a petulant, Cheetos-colored blowhard the leader of the free world are the ideological direct descendants of the people who put a bullet into King’s brain on the balcony of that Memphis, Tenn., hotel.

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If they really want to know what Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted, tell them you actually have an answer.

Then, lean in close, stare them in the face and with merciful eyes and a voice brimming with make-believe empathy, you tell them:

“Maybe we’d know if you wouldn’t have killed him.”

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.

DISCUSSION

user_21938
user_21938

Holy shit, that was great.

I used to be a white moderate. I imagine we all are at some point, somewhere in between our struggle to reckon with a world beyond what we’re taught in school and our acceptance that the authority we follow is bullshit (not all of us are successful at either). What I was taught in school about Martin Luther King Jr. was that black folk used to not be treated fairly, then Dr. King came along and gave a speech, and he was so much nicer than that Malcolm X, and then everything got better.

Turning Dr. King into an otherworldly figure has been an extremely effective tool of dismissing his reality, as you point out. In fact, if you’re a white person and all you have is a high school education, there’s no reason to know about the Edmund Pettis Bridge, or the church bombings, or the lynchings, or the letter from the Birmingham jail, or the hundreds of thousands who voluntarily risked torture and death to organize the marches and sit ins and boycotts. There’s no reason to consider the effect the Nation of Islam had on the movement, how their extremism ultimately made the nonviolent movement more palatable to white Americans. There’s really nothing through to adulthood to make a white child reckon with the notion than Dr. King didn’t fix everything - all I was ever taught in school about his assassination was that it was sad.

The deck is stacked against understanding. It’s stacked against peaceful coexistence. It’s stacked against justice. The best way to unstack a deck? Overturn the whole goddamn table.