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MLive Group Editor on the Legacy of Dr. King: Whitewashing & White Privilege

April 2, 2012

Yesterday, the editor of the newly formed MLive Group, Paul Keep, wrote an editorial on what he called he legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Keep was writing in anticipation of the April 4 anniversary of King’s assassination while in Memphis in 1968 to support the sanitation workers strike for racial and economic justice – a critical point that Keep omitted in his editorial.

Keep began his editorial by saying that Dr. King would not likely be surprised at the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin. He then went on to say that King, “spoke about having seen the promised land — a land in which the color of people’s skin made no difference in how they were treated.”

While it is true that Dr. King mentioned the Promised Land in his last speech on April 3, 1968, he didn’t really make statements about the color of people’s skin. King’s speech was a history of struggle and resistance that was continuing in Memphis, where he talked about the sanitation workers strike and boycotts against companies like Coca-Cola.

Keep then went on to say, “We’re the kind of nation that can rise above prejudice to break new ground in the political world, but we are so often reminded that we’re also a nation that cannot seem to put a sordid chapter of its past completely behind it in the area of race relations.”

This statement is very revealing, because what it indicates is that Paul Keep has no idea what the history of racism in the US is really about. By calling it a “sordid chapter of its past,” he minimizes the brutality of systemic racism of the past like slavery of Africans and genocide of Native Americans. This notion of putting this history behind us also ignores and denies the current systems of institutional racism that plague communities of color throughout the nation, such as the Prison Industrial Complex, major health and economic inequities that exist for communities of color, the anti-immigrant practices of racist groups and the government, which detain and deport thousands every year.

Keep further demonstrates his White privilege by recounting a conversation he had with a young Black woman in Flint about 10 years ago. Keep wanted to acknowledge how far the US has come over the years in terms of eliminating some forms legal segregation, but the young woman wasn’t, in Keep’s words, “satisfied.” Keep acknowledged that she had a right not to be satisfied, but then he doesn’t go further in terms of trying to understand why this young Black woman felt the way she did.

Instead, Keep ends his editorial with reflections on visiting the Lorraine Hotel and the National Civil Rights Museum in February with his wife and son. Keep writes, “It was haunting to look at the motel balcony and the spot where Dr. King fell. He was only 39 years old when he died. Think what he might have done had he been given more years to work on his causes. Or did it somehow take his death to wake up a nation? We’ll never know the answer to that, but we should all be able to agree that we aren’t yet in his promised land.”

These final comments again reflect the tremendous privilege he has, since he doesn’t take any personal or professional ownership for the ongoing struggle for racial justice. He could have taken the opportunity on the anniversary of Dr. King’s death to commit the MLive Media Group to doing stories on the current manifestations of institutional racism in West Michigan.

Instead, Keep chooses to write in vague language about whether or not the death of King woke up the nation. The assassination of King and the subsequent uprising that took place all across the country was a wake up call to the Black community, which understood that even someone who preached non-violence was a threat to the power structure. King and the movement had moved beyond segregation and were now demanding economic justice, because that was how racism was most often manifested, by keeping Blacks in poverty through exploitation and limited opportunities.

We will never get to the “promised land” as long as people with privilege and power like Paul Keep aren’t willing to give it up and join in the struggle for racial and economic justice.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe Walker permalink
    June 1, 2012 3:39 pm

    I agree!!! Mr. Keep really needs to read Paul Kivel’s book entitled “Uprooting Racism”, or else to attend the Woodrick program on Racism offered by GRCC!

Trackbacks

  1. MLive columnist dismisses anti-racism campaign and White Privilege « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  2. MLive columnist dismisses anti-racism campaign and White Privilege | Our Kitchen Table

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