As Martin Luther King Day dawned in America Monday morning, a headline tweeted out by USA Today prominently displayed the following message in bold, stark lettering:
“Whites Killed MLK. Now We Honor Him.”
That's right. If you're white and thinking, "But wait, James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King!" -- you're wrong. YOU did.
The premise of the article is much the same as many others that have come before it: whites bear the sins of their ethnic ancestors based purely on the tint of their skin, and regardless of whether their personal ancestors actually owned slaves (in all my research, I have yet to come across a family member of my own who did).
Further, the blacks of today still carry the whip-scars of their ancestors (again, regardless of whether their own relatives were actually slaves themselves).
Finally, white people should both attempt to understand this historical gripe and remedy it while simultaneously admitting that they never will understand it, and that they can never make up for it.
“Centuries of kidnapping, torture, murder, rape. What white person can understand black lives? Not me,” Oliver Thomas begins.
Ironically, not two full paragraphs into the guilt-tripping diatribe, Mr. Thomas (a white pastor, by his bio line) quickly seeks to distance himself from the collective “whites” who allegedly killed MLK.
“We [whites] killed him,” Thomas asserts, before quickly hedging, “Not me, of course. I’m not racist."
Not him, of course. Just all those other “whites.”
The article further alleges that the only reason white people still memorialize Martin Luther King – the only reason they would even dare to – is because he’s dead.
“We tried to fix it...put him on a pedestal. Where we can honor him. And he can’t poke us in the eye,” the author states.
Thomas then accuses whites, referred to throughout the article as the collective “we” (despite his own rushed assertion that he didn’t kill MLK, of course) of shoving black people into urban areas, trapping them there and deliberately denying them opportunities in a continued effort to keep them segregated, trapped.
Never mind the white president who signed a proclamation freeing the slaves in this nation, or the white soldiers who took musket balls to the stomach in pursuit of that goal.
Never mind the tens of thousands of white Americans who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Martin Luther King in his march on Washington, D.C.
Never mind that not 50 years after the Civil Rights movement, millions of white Americans helped elect Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States (an election which Thomas acknowledges before claiming it did little to make up for centuries of abuse committed by their white ancestors long before they were born). Millions more on the other side of the political aisle have supported Ben Carson, Alan West, Tim Scott and Mia Love, just to name a few.
Thomas’ contrived attempt to tug at the emotional heartstrings of a nation commits a fallacy that many before it have done, and many will likely continue to do. In his desire to edge himself into the good graces of those who still feel oppressed by racist laws that haven’t even existed in their lifetimes, Thomas lumps generations of white people, separated by decades, creeds, worldviews and experiences, into one collective segment.
One giant, inescapable “we.”
To Thomas, the mistakes of slave owners in the 1850s rest on the shoulders of today’s corporate CEOs, who employ thousands of blacks.
To Thomas, the little white girl who was once afraid to drink from a water fountain after a black woman is somehow reflected in the little white girl who now plays with her best friend on an elementary school playground, and doesn’t even think twice about their differing shades of melanin.
To Thomas, the same America that once docked slave ships at its harbors and bought and sold human beings like cattle in the open market is remarkably unchanged from the America in which millions of whites worked on Barack Obama’s campaign, cast their ballots for him (twice), and cried during his final farewell speech.
To Thomas, “we” haven’t changed at all. “We” killed Martin Luther King and built a memorial assuage our own guilt. And "we" will continue to be blamed for the plight of every dissatisfied black person from here until kingdom come, regardless of how much we listen, empathize, give, reach out, vote, try.
"We" will always be at fault.
And I believe I speak for many in the collective "we" when I say we're not buying it.