Growing up in Atlanta, MLK was always there for me, just like sweet tea and dogwood trees. His name was on streets and public buildings, his image peered from murals and other works of art, and his former associates appeared on TV to pontificate about the world’s ills. In my previous entry, I said that MLK is bigger than Jesus to blacks, and that’s not a lie; it’s just the way things are, and if you’ve grown up with it, then it’s not really something you think about.
As naive as this may sound, it wasn’t until I started hanging out in the Catholic blogosphere that I realized that this love of all things MLK was not shared by many of my white co-religionists, who thought he was a communist who was single-handedly responsible for all of today’s modern social ills, as if abortion and gay marriage could have been averted if only those “darkies” could have just gritted their teeth and remained in the back of the bus. Catholic writer E. Michael Jones even said that the entire Chicago Freedom Movement (intended to be the Northern phase of the Civil Rights Movement) was just a conspiracy by white liberals to destroy “ethnic whites.” Because if black people are complaining about something, then there has to be another group of white people behind it. God forbid that blacks might actually be unhappy with being treated like second-hand citizens. The fact that Chicago is and remains ones of the United States’ largest centers for black Catholics seems not to have crossed Mr. Jones’ mind. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about the whites, isn’t it?
Then there were those who complained that it was “heretical” for black parishes to have pictures of MLK, Rosa Parks, and the like around, since they weren’t Catholic. Seriously, if you have to ask why a black organization of any sort has a picture of MLK hanging around, then you’re too stupid to live, and I have no qualms about saying that.
This revelation that my co-religionists and I weren’t entirely on the same historical page led to another round of existential angst. I really did try to find Catholic equivalents of black heroes in Latin America and Africa, but they just aren’t there. Who did St. Martin de Porres free? No one, that’s who. He wasn’t even willing to free himself, when he was given the opportunity. As far as I’m concerned, St. Martin de Porres is just an Uncle Tom in a Dominican habit. The fact that you’re just as likely to find a picture of MLK in Lima, Peru or Soweto as you are in Atlanta illustrates that he’s more than just an icon to American blacks.
I know there are those conservotrads who will harp on MLK’s allegedly infidelities, and such and I could care less. Those people don’t know or care anything about MLK’s widow, Coretta Scott King, a woman that I admire more than ten thousand Virgin Marys praying nonstop in heaven. If any of those conservotrads could even tell me one thing about CSK without going to Wikipedia, other than the fact that she used to be married to MLK, then I’d be shocked. To them, CSK was just a member of the “professional left,” and they didn’t care about her when she was alive or when she was dead. If CSK was wronged in her marriage during her life, how many more times was she wronged by the government who spied on her throughout most of her adult life, by “fairweather friends” who thought that allowing her children to attention the best schools in Atlanta would be a slippery slope to Soviet-style gulags, or to the illiterate yokels who were sending her death threats until the day she died? To such a woman, the slings and arrows of marriage were nothing compared to fighting against a lifelong system who was more than willing to see her as “Aunt Coretta,” rather than Coretta Scott King, freedom fighter, classical artist, mother, and friend.
To remain in this traditionalist, topsy-turvy world where women wearing pants to church is a greater issue than racial injustice would have just sent me straight to the psych ward, and in retrospect I’m lucky that that’s not how I turned out.
After I left the Catholic church and religion altogether, I realized the truth. Namely that while Jesus may have died for my sins, but MLK died so I could be the valedictorian of a majority white university, and the latter will always be more important to me than the former.