Today is the day that we remember Martin Luther King, Jr in the United States. It is a complicated day, marked by a complicated legacy. In real life, MLK was decried by liberals in the last years of his life for being impatient and not “staying in his lane” as a civil rights leader, but his words are now frequently taken out of context to advocate for a color-blind, comfortable kind of post-racial “success” even while we life in a world that is ripe with racism.
Dr King spoke about three evils: racism, militarism, and economic exploitation. This frustrated many who thought he should have limited his message to the issues of racism, specifically. However, King knew that the oppression of Black people was based not only on racism and white supremacy and the degradation of Jim Crow laws, but also on the way the economy was constructed to maintain an impoverished class, and the way the military-industrial complex used Black and Brown bodies.
In OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, I also named a triple threat: white supremacy, Christian supremacy, and gender oppression. These three are not separate from King’s triple threat. King was not known for being outspoken about Christian supremacy and gender oppression. However, he worked closely with Bayard Rustin who was a known “homosexual” as well as Jewish and Muslim and other colleagues of faith who were not Christian. Women’s, LGBT, and Interfaith organizing have expanded exponentially since King’s death. We now have language and leaders that King was never exposed to.
Meanwhile, we live in a world where the U.S. war-making machine is alive and well–and being upheld by toxic masculinity. The gap between “rich” and “poor” has only grown since King’s death. Black and Brown people, transgender and same-gender-loving people are exponentially more likely to live in poverty. The intersection of race and gender means that transgender people of color are particularly at risk.
I am with King in saying that white supremacy, militarism, and economic exploitation are problematic. I like to think that, if he had lived, Dr King would have grown more vocal about Christian supremacy and gender oppression. Indeed, transgender liberation is not possible until we deal with all of these dynamics. We need a comprehensive analysis that makes the connections between gender oppression, white supremacy, militarism, Christian supremacy, and economic exploitation.
The treatment of King’s legacy is very similar to that of Jesus in that both legacies are often domesticated and presented as campaigns for submission and compliance, paired with respectability politics. Both Jesus and Dr King were impactful religious radicals who shook things up, each in their own times, each in their own ways. Too many of us have been bamboozled into believing they were less radical than they were. This is more white bullshit (a technical term).
On this day, may we remember that each of us can follow them in claiming a deep analysis of the principalities and powers of this world, while doing our part to be a part of the resistance. Join us in reclaiming a more radical message!
Some additional resources:
Compiled by Mx Chris Paige on January 20, 2020.
Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have additions, corrections, or concerns.