It’s always the first holiday of the new year, every new year. It comes almost as a respite from the havoc the day-to-day work life of the past 2 weeks has already wrought in our personal lives. It can even give us a chance to catch up on that resolution we haven’t done the best at keeping. Whatever it is for you, it comes every year in America: Martin Luther King Jr. Day. First officially observed on January 20th, 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into reality in 1983 and has been observed since. And every year, more now with invention of social media, the quotes from MLK Jr. starting flying across all platforms. Excerpts from speeches condensed to 140 (now 280) characters; Instagram post with pictures of him and another quote listed somewhere under. Long Facebook statuses about the gratitude felt for the sacrifices he made on our behalf to catapult us to becoming a better country. All day; every year.
Now please understand that I believe that all of the accolades are well deserved, for sure. MLK Jr. and those who stood with and adjacent to him have all endured seemingly insurmountable trials for the future benefit of people they would never meet; namely, me and you. But there are somethings that have been bothered me on this day. And tomorrow’s reflection will be no different.
For one, there seems to be this inconspicuous amnesia that somehow plagues the collective mind of America as it looks back on the legacy of this now celebrated man. Most people forget that MLK Jr. was under FBI investigation for most of his public life. He was considered a public enemy and was under surveillance by his own government. Even the inception of giving him a day for celebration and reflection was initially met with opposition. MLK Jr. is now celebrated and heralded as a man who brought this country together; but in his time he was actually considered the exact opposite. Now, you may be thinking that we’ve moved passed this time, so why bring it up now? This brings me to what really bugs me on MLK Jr. day: MLK Jr. Day is day of false peace for America.
I get the theme of false peace from Jeremiah 6:14:
“They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace.”
In this verse, Jeremiah is condemning the false and lying priests and prophets. The people of God were to be punished for their sins, yet the prophets wanted to calm the fears of the people instead of faithfully preaching the truth of God and calling them to repentance. Their land, and some of their lives, were about to be taken. Yet these liars wanted the people to believe everything is ok. They sold them peace, false peace, when God had promised them destruction.
This is the false peace being sold on MLK Jr. Day: “Here is a man who is proof that we have moved so far from where we were so lets all reflect on our glorious progress.” And people lap up this insidious lie like devil’s food cake. There seems to be this imaginary participation trophy passed out in society whenever we get to post a riveting MLK quote. There is this ignorantly blissful celebration of progress, where no progress exist. This salute to equality, where none is present. This complacency with past accomplishments as if we made many more recent ones.
I know our President is going to say something about MLK Jr. Day. His administration will say something about his legacy, their thankfulness for his service, and their commending us to look forward to a better America, all thanks to this man.
Last year these comments came right on the heels of his “s-hole countries” scandal. But instead of noting the hypocrisy that comes from an administration that can compare whole countries of brown and black people to feces then turn around and celebrate America’s favorite brown and black man, a man who might have very well descended from one of those s-hole countries, he will be rewarded by many for his comments. They will be met with rousing cheers and lots of heart and American flag emojis. Celebrating this kind of behavior instead of mourning it is false peace. It is willfully choosing to see a victory that is not there. It is proudly walking in a lie and boastfully calling it the truth.
False peace is evil. It is demonic. It is not of God. False peace offers what it cannot provide. It writes checks from an empty account. The celebration of MLK Jr. Day as a representation of how well we are doing as a country with regards to race is a lie. This country has only begun to root up its extremely deep race trauma and we have so much more to go. For our country to use this holiday as a way to say we are making significant progress while being the very obstacle of actual progress is a slap in the face to every person of color who still feels the heavy chains of racial inequality in this country.
MLK Jr. is not your scapegoat. He is not your Sambo. He is not your racial reconciliation mascot. He is not your happy negro. He is a man who white America would not like if he was alive today. He is a man who would be labeled a race-baiter. White evangelicals would call him too radical. They would not invite him to their church nor to speak at their conferences. And yet every year we celebrate him as if he was and would be the most beloved man in the country.
So this year, be true on MLK Jr. Day. Enjoy the day off. Reflect on his legacy, honestly. Read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Read the entire speech, not just the part that gives us warm feelings. Think deeply about the racial divide in this country. Think honestly about the damage our country has to repair in this area. Pray for healing. Pray for boldness and hard conversations. And pray for peace, instead of lying about it actually being here.
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