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Dr. Boyce: 5 Questions Dr. King Might Ask About His Memorial

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would martin luther king attend his memorial dedication ceremony?

It only makes sense that we show respect for those who have chosen to participate in the Martin Luther King Memorial Dedication ceremonies this week. Millions of Americans truly appreciate the legacy of Dr. King, and their involvement in the ceremony is reflective of this sentiment. So, my desire not to participate in the commemoration is out of respect for Dr. King’s principles, but with full understanding of those who choose to disagree.

As a people, I argue that too few of us possess the passionate desire to fight the tough battles necessary to see Dr. King’s dream come to fruition. No differently from those who attend church every Sunday vs. those who do the hard work to live a good Christian life, America gives us a license to embrace rampant hypocrisy. America has not taken very many steps to fulfill the dreams of Dr. King and in some ways, we are worse off than we were when he was alive. It is for this reason that I question our decision to celebrate the building of a group of granite statues paid for by those who continue to treat black people as second-class citizens.

It is because of my concern for this hypocrisy that I’ve chosen to stay home on the day that the Dr. King Memorial is dedicated. I am not sure if Dr. King would attend this ceremony himself if he were alive today. I speculate that instead, he might be spending the week protesting on Wall Street, fighting for labor rights or battling the epidemic of mass incarceration.

Here are a few questions I think Dr. King might ask about this memorial if he were alive today:

Dr. King Question #1: Is there anything better we could do with that $120 million dollars, given that 40% of all black children are in poverty?

The MLK memorial is going to cost a cool $120 million. That’s enough to pay $10,000 on the mortgages of 12,000 Americans who’ve lost their homes from foreclosure and predatory lending, enough to buy a meal for 24 million hungry children, or enough to pay the salaries of 2,400 inner city school teachers who’ve lost their jobs due to budget cuts. I’ve always been impressed with Dr. King because he seemed to work to embrace the spirit of Jesus, another revolutionary who was rarely welcome into anyone’s fancy church. Although not a perfect man, Dr. King fought for the poor, stood up for children, and did what was right without concern for the consequences.

If Jesus were walking the earth today, he wouldn’t want us to build another temple or statue in his honor. Instead, he might ask us to stay home and do God’s work instead. While Dr. King is certainly not Jesus Christ, he is a man with enough integrity that I believe he would reject this corporate memorial in the same way that he would not accept a BET Award being presented by Lil Wayne.

Like those men who are conditioned to have sex with any beautiful woman who offers it, some of us are also tempted to accept awards and honors from anyone who gives us a little money and fame. Being honored in this way is good for the ego, but not so good for the soul. So, there are some situations where it might be best to just walk away.

Dr. King Question #2: Why is Walmart on the list of major donors for the monument, in spite of the fact that they are entirely disrespectful of my positions on labor rights?

Walmart, who gave a full 10% of the funds necessary to build the King Memorial (they actually signed the first letter of credit that opened the door for the monument to be built), has a long list of multi-billion dollar labor and human rights violations that have served to make the company into the economic behemoth that it has become today. They’ve been connected with numerous sweatshops around the world, their workers are underpaid and not allowed to unionize, and they’ve been accused of massive amounts of racial and gender discrimination. If Dr. King were alive today, he’d be standing in front of Walmart with a picket sign, not asking them for money to build a statue.

I came face-to-face with Walmart power when we fought on behalf of Heather Ellis, the college student who was going to get 15 years in prison after cutting line in one of their stores. I watched as the host of a major Black radio show seemed to throw Heather’s life and future under the bus because Walmart was one of his major corporate sponsors. I also watched as Walmart (a company that is notorious for having intense camera security) “accidentally” lose the video footage showing Heather being slammed to the ground by police outside the store.

As a Finance Professor, I can tell you that Capitalism 101 teaches us that the King Memorial is an easy investment for Walmart if their $12.5 million dollar donation compensates for the billions they’ve stolen from all of humanity with egregious labor practices. Also, how many Black folks lost their jobs and livelihoods after the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast last summer?  The memorial is being built on money from BET, which has created an entire generation of anti-intellectual Black youth and (admitted by Sheila Johnson, the founder’s wife) even served to fuel the Black HIV epidemic by promoting a lifestyle of sexual irresponsibility with non-stop booty-shaking videos.  Accepting money from corporate crooks to build a memorial for Dr. King is no different from praising the local drug dealer for giving away a few toys at Christmas.

Dr. King Question #3: Do you even have a clue about what my dream really means and do you really think it’s anywhere near being fulfilled?

Dr. King fought for American equality in all areas that mattered, including education, economics, and incarceration, among others. As it stands, African Americans continue to be oppressed in ways that would make David Duke blush. Black children are not being educated, the wealth gap has grown to a level almost as high as when Dr. King was alive, Black unemployment is the highest that it’s been in a quarter-century and there are more black men in prison than there were enslaved back in 1865.

Whose dream is this?

I also could not help but notice that the words “racism” and “black” were completely left out of the list of quotes that were placed on the King memorial.  Was this deliberate?  Did the organizers not realize that racial justice was an important part of King’s work, or is he just another white liberal who should host a show on MSNBC?

Dr. King Question #4: Why have people come to value style over substance?

What should a series of Walmart statues and monuments really mean to us anyway? Our anxious, knee-jerk reaction to symbolic signs of respect is in deep contrast to the fact that black folks are rarely willing to collectively fight for any meaningful cause.  Like our teenage children, we’ve become addicted to status symbols and somehow use these symbols to give us the humanity that has been denied us for the last 400 years.

Any corporation being allowed to donate to the MLK dedication ceremony should be able to show that it has an equally honorable track record when dealing with the issues that Martin Luther King cared about the most.  The company should have a solid track record on corporate responsibility, labor rights, diversity and other issues that would matter to Dr. King.  Would a man let me steal his dying mother’s estate and then use the funds to pay for her funeral?  That’s what we’re doing when we allow companies like Dutch Shell (who was linked to the murders of African activists who peacefully protested the company’s exploitation of the Nigerian people) to help but Dr. King’s memorial.

Also, black folks might want to stop believing that money is somehow the trump card which justifies any ethically-questionable decision. The choice of powerful companies and organizations to back the King memorial does not, in any way, increase the relevance of the venture itself. It is both sick and sad that we continue to seek validation from the descendants of our historical oppressors, and then wonder why almost no one in America respects us.

Dr. King Question #5: What are you going to do now?

Unfortunately, many black folks love to gather for a party and then go home. There is a cognitive disconnect that creates significant distance between what we should be doing and what we choose to do. Even within the most educated among us, we have quite a few PhDs, but very few “Ph-Dos.” Many people have a hard time understanding that ideas without action are effectively worthless.

Perhaps the day has come for us to practice what Dr. King once preached. Rather than popping bottles at the clubs every other night, we can start filling up the libraries instead. Instead of just politely listening to what the pastor says on Sundays, we can replicate pastors like Jeremiah Wright and Father Michael Pfleger, who have worked to implement the visions of a higher power. Maybe we can learn that without sacrifice, there is no progress, and that no one will give us respect until we learn to truly respect ourselves.

It is forgivable that we are choosing to build the Dr. King Memorial under such a dark period in American economic history – I am choosing not to attend the ceremony, but I have complete respect for those who disagree. But like a man with bad credit who’s been given a loan that he doesn’t deserve, America has created this memorial as a promise to reach a higher standard when it comes to our commitment to social justice.

We must be sure to keep this promise to Dr. King, and truly memorialize his life by making America into a nation that acts on the vision he laid out before his death. But creating that vision is going to require hard work, and it’s not something that we can buy at Walmart.

 

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. 

James

18 Comment

  1. Why are we still judging people by their color and not their character? Why do many see Obama as for black people? because really he is not. How would giving 21 million illegals amnesty help black peoples unemployment rate, and what black person would want to do that? Why after 40 years of support, black people are still voting for the democratic party, this party only uses black votes and does nothing for our people but keep blacks on the government plantation waiting for their EBT card. Where has the pride gone that black people once had with each other, why do many of us hate each other? Why do we cheapen our women? I think MLK would say we are going backwards.

  2. Question #6 might be “WHY are so many that say they follow me are fulflinng my fear of the paralysis of analysis, versus stopping to organize and achieve what they say they are commemorating in my name?” There is STILL no national call from our journalists, spinsters, or leaders in the name of Dr. King that the Black community start tomorrow with a Black economic revival, following the principles of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign and Dr. King’s Operation Breadbasket community economic program.

    What would happen if Black people with their anticipated ONE TRILLION DOLLAR consumer spending power followed Dr. King’s directive to economically boycott any major corporation that did not adhere to a financial benefits agreement with the local business development communities they wanted to exist; AND what would happen if Blacks with that TRILLION DOLLAR consumer spending power actually followed Dr. King’s call for them to put more of that money in their own Black financial institutions for the ongoing development of our own Black community businesses and jobs???

    This seems simple to me, but it looks like our major opinion makers are going to be stuck in the “paralysis of analysis” versus a call to action for a Black economic revival paying tribute to the substance of Dr. King’s real agenda.

  3. And Martin Luther King’s next question would probably be which of you brilliant scholars whose rights I died for has become available to march relentlessly in honour of what I fought for to prevent debacles such as these expensive monuments that are dedicated to my honour while more of my brothers and sister die from poverty?

  4. Thank you Dr. Boyce for your comments regarding Dr. Martin Luther King’s Memorial…. I agree wholeheartedly !!!! No further comment needed since you broke it down whereas even an idiot would understand….

  5. I agree in regard to the statue comment itself. However, I think that there is an unfair generalization that needs to altered. Young Black People are not stupid non-intellectuals; young black people do not have legitimate, outspoken, public figure leaders–who will climb to the highest of mountains to Internationally proclaim our Natural Born rights as a collective. Status symbols (PhD’s), anthropologically, have become more important than creating systems of things that make the lives of the proletariat’s better. Our “real” leaders should have one clear objective that will dissipate a notable portion of this dilemma we face together (whites and blacks): TAKE DOWN THE UNIFORM COMMERCIAL CODE (NOT THE FEDERAL RESERVE ITSELF). As long as it is there, and you were not born in a Commonwealth State established before it–YOU ARE A SLAVE, NOT A DEBT SLAVE, OFFICIALLY A REAL SLAVE. If Professors, with their exquisitely elegant tones, teach this, they will no longer be professors within the time frame; only Noam Chomsky will get away with that (http://www.chomsky.info/audionvideo.htm). All corporations and incorporation’s are usurped by this code, and so, nothing is black owned if the, wealthy, (i.e., the Trillionaires for those of you who naively really believe its Billionaires who run the world and Millionaires who have a say = laughable) continue to have this code, its silent referendums and senatorial amendments. Nonetheless, this was a Good Article for much needed alternative analysis these days about what that “historical” event was really about. To cement that thought, clearly, the beltway is aware that the black vote is up for grabs if anyone black, votes at all. The really poor community knows and they have visibly given up; it is not because of a new level of generational incompetence. If the beltway does not uphold the US. Constitution, why would anyone truly believe they uphold voters rights or civil rights at that. I know, that the black community has a discredited understanding, but at the same time, will not fall for the “okie doke ;-)”…twice. The Black Community must focus on International Relations, indefinitely, in order to create a strong enough push back that will re-establish our rights. By the time these cognitive ideas are “mainstream” our Imperial Military will be neoconservatively helping Israel with Iran, further destabilizing, everyone. I disagree that my generation is collectively non-intellectual when the black voices that sound like yours at this age (25 or so) are not only known by the Fascistic Imperialist, but well disenfranchised. Social Imperialism Rules(!), forget about what everyone else taught us over the course of the last century. “Be ignorant if you want…but do what thou wilt”

    (Intellectual Sentiment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qmSHKT6yX0)

    (Not my Source but a Starting Point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlOUXWQP-KM)

  6. I LOVE YOU DR. BOYCE WATKINS.

  7. you do not want to be a part of this ! your loss. If you are have the man you you claim to be, then why do you continue to insite bad feelings towards others that want to visit. Speak of hyprokrosy, you need to look in the mirrow, and see if you like yourself.

  8. Boyce, don’t put words in Dr. King’s mouth, This is just your pathetic, self righteous attempt to justify why you chose not to go to the ceremony.

    You should have been there or at least watched it on tv. You would hear people, even the President admit that after 50 years since the March on Washington, Dr. King’s work, is not complete. That we have more work to do to bring equality. Boyce, regardless of how much it cost or who paid for it, we need that monument. When we look at Dr. Kings statue it is a reminder for us to keep fighting, never give up

  9. It is good to hear a voice of reason, I pondered the idea of a monument and the forces that had gathered to erect the monument which brought many of the same questions you raised. I know that Martin Luther King was not popular during his life because of his revolutionary positions. Many of his friends in the clergy had desserted him and the average black person wished he would tone it down. He was eventually hunted down and murdered and to this day there is still a lot of questions concerning who and why? The world is in need of a Martin Luther King today. The statue is for the dreamers, Martin was a realist and was functioning in real time. It’s about time we woke up and continue Dr Kings legacy.

  10. This is a powerful discussion that merits attention (corporate patronage versus black interests). Here is a question, was the goal to build a monument to King or what is to expose corporate greed? Is it hypocrisy if one takes from one’s oppressor(s) (slave eating the scraps of his/her enslaver) to do for oneself? I’m of the opinion that every dollar the oppressor gives, guilt-dollars, “philanthropic” dollars with intent, corporate dollars that mask sullied histories and current practices, –all of the dollars need to be taken and used for our benefit (and if possible against the oppressor). Receiving from the devil is not the sin, its what you do with the gift that creates the problem. Job and Jesus both received a gift from the devil, (in the form of deprivation and temptation) their faiths were reinforced and made solid like granite. God Bless you Good Brother! And keep on pushing!

  11. Dr. Boyce

    Unfortunately you continue to be a Part of the Problem in Black America. Black America’s history is filled with Divide, Disrespect, Distract vs. Working Together to make the community better for all. Black America’s 200 year history thankfully, for the most part ignores those who refuse to be a positive force, but rather, is looking for or to make Headlines.

    Dr. Boyce, exactly what are you doing to make Black America Better, Better Communities, Helping Our Children struggling, what specifically are you doing vs. the daily headlines that have nothing to do with addressing the Real Issues Facing Black Families who unemployment is at 50% in some states and 19% Nation Wide

    Dr. Boyce explain how you are helping to move the congress and others by addressing the Real Issues facing those who are homeless, jobless, can’t put food on the table, have no place tolay their heades

    Until those who avoid the Real Issues, lik yourself, get involved on a positive, you are an educator and should Know better, our Youth are not blind but they certainly are not in agreement with your style of attempting to Embrass Dr. King

    It’s not your job to say what Dr. King might ask, he’s gone, let him rest in peace, anyone can second guess a person dead or alive, but it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do.

    Scripture teaches us this is wrong, do something positive to address the Issues, until then avoiding the Real Issues Millions of Black Families are facing leaves you on the sidelines unwilling to participate in a Real Discussion of the Issues families are facing.i

    • Much to say about nothing. You should not fall victim to the same fault you acuse Dr. Bryce of possessing, He is doing his job. What is your contribution?

  12. It’s not about Dr. King’s dream. It is about every black person’s dream who fought and died for equality and civil and human rights. The problem is that we place too much emphasis on Dr. King. While he was a great leader, he was only one of the many people who were part of the movement and struggle. He wasn’t the whole movement. We can’t forget each and every person — black and white — who pressed just as hard alongside Dr. King for that dream. I could care less about a monument. It means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Why? Blacks are are still being incarcerated at epidemic proportions, some 70 percent of our children are born out of wedlock, our public schools are falling apart , our young people are killing each in droves by the day and although blacks have tremendous buying power, we own very few major businesses and companies to hire the 16 percent unemployed.

  13. First off, we are not respectd because we do not respect ourselves. The article by Dr. Boyce is spot on. One way we can send a clear message is by supporting our community black-own businesses. I do not know if this is appropriate, or whether anyone can see my website address, but I own an online retail music store http://www.besmusicgroup.com. Christmas is coming soon. Give yourself or a love one the gift of music. It will help support me and help me to continue to support other black businesses. Let’s put our money(literally) where our mouth is. p.s. I hope the black radio host you spoke of is not Tavis Smiley. Peace

  14. i wanna know what he was doing with them white girls back in his day (rip mlk) http://www.mediacheckout.net/

  15. IT IS HOPE THAT FIRST MRS. KING WOULD POLITELY BUT ADAMANTLY INSISIT THAT THE FACE AND DEMEANOR OF THE MEMORIAL WOULD AUTHENTICALLY RESEMBLE THE MAN THAT SHE LOVED, RESPECTED, AND HONORED. THEN IN A SPEECH IT IS BELIEVED THAT DR. KING WOULD ANSWER ALL OF HIS CONCERNS IN HIS ANOINTED WAY AS ONLY HE COULD:

    PEOPLE, “SOMETHING IS WRONG,” BECAUSE RECALL THE STATEMENT ABOUT WHATEVER JOB YOU DO, PERFORM THE TASK WITH THE COMPETENCE OF HAVING A POSSESSION OF AN INNATE GIFT FROM WHAT IS GREATER THAN ONE’S SELF. SO IT SEEMS TO ME THAT “SOMETHING IS WRONG.” IF ONE LOOKS AT AN IMAGE OF ONE’S SELF, AND HAVE TO SEEK TO FIND HIMSELF WITIHIN THE IMAGE, OR IF THE WORDS OF A GREAT MAN HAS TO BE CHANGED, THEN ONE WILL HAVE TO ALSO PONDER WHY WOULD OTHERS WANT TO MINIMIZE THE CHARACTER AND THE DEEDS OF SOMEONE THAT THEY ARE CLAIMING TO HONOR? BLACK AMERICA MUST REMEMBER FROM WHENCE WE COME, BECAUSE SEGREGATION CAN BE PRODUCED IN OTHER FORMS OF FASHION. IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF STANDING UP AGAINST THE WRONGS PROJECTED TOWARDS ONE’S OWN CULTURE AND UNCOMFORTABLE WITH PROLIFERATING YOUR OWN CULTURE INTO EMPOWERMENT, THEN “SOMETHING IS WRONG.” MASTERS AND MISTERS/ JUDGES AND PROSECUTORS… THE PLANTATION/ THE JUSTICE SYSTEM…SLAVE AUCTION AND FREE OR CHEAP LABOR/ THE PRISON SYSTEM… UNEQUAL EDUCATION/ REVERSE DISCRIMINATION AND “LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND…” jim crow/ negate the culture’s images and words, FILL IN THE BLANKS AMERICA, BECAUSE THERE IS SO MUCH MORE OF DIRECT AND INDIRECT CLANDESTINE ACTS OF MINIMIZING THE DREAMS OF A VITAL PORTION OF AMERICANS. MINORITIES ARE DIFFERENT, AND IF YOU DON’T WANT TO USE THE ACTUAL PROCLAIMED WORD BLACK MINORITY, THEN “NEGRO” MINORITY, NO OTHER CULTURE IS GOING TO EMPOWER THE BLACK CULTURE BETTER THAN THE BLACK CULTURE!!! IT IS IMPORTANT TO LOVE ALL MAN, BUT IT IS EVEN MORE IMPORTANT TO LOVE SELF AND WANT THE BEST FOR SELF TOO. “SOMETHING IS WRONG,” BECAUSE BLACK PEOPLE IF YOU COULD NOT INSISIT THAT THE POWER AT BE CORRECT AND IMAGE TO MAKE IT REFLECT THE ART OF MICHAEL ANGELO, THEN SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY WRONG” !!! BLACK FOLK, IT’S MIS-EDUCATION TO ALLOW OTHERS TO CHANGE, MANIPULATE AND TELL THE HISTORY OF WHO YOU ARE, WHERE YOU COME FROM, AND LEAD YOUR GENERATIONS INTO THEIR IMAGES OF FUTURE BLACK EMPOWERMENT!!!
    (PLEASE EXCUSE ALL ERRORS!!!)
    P.S. WOULD DR. KING ACKNOWLEDGE THE COURAGE OF SUCH PAST AND PRESENT RAPPERS AS KANYE WEST/ COMMON/ TUPAC SHAKUR/ DMX(“THEY DON’T KNOW WHO WE BE”)/RUSSEL AND RUN SIMMONS/ WILL SMITH/ NWA/ PUBLIC ENEMY/ JADAKISS/ KRS-ONE/ MOS DEF/ SISTA SOLDIER/ QUEEN LATIFAH…) WAKE UP BLACK AMERICA… THE TRUTH KEEPS US FREE!!!

  16. This was written almost a year ago by Dr. Boyce Watkins before the veiling of the Dr. King Memorial in Washington. Powerful perspective that you think. We definitely need to move from our current state of 'slactivicism' back to activism. -Montoya aka THE Black Nietzsche.

  17. This was written almost a year ago by Dr. Boyce Watkins before the veiling of the Dr. King Memorial in Washington. Powerful perspective that makes you think. We definitely need to move from our current state of 'slactivicism' back to activism. -Montoya aka THE Black Nietzsche.

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