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Martin Luther King's Anti-Imperialism
January 19, 2009 8:29 AM   Subscribe

King's Anti-Imperialism and the Challenge for Obama.
posted by homunculus (23 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
the fact that Juan is one of the few top political bloggers in the US who dares to use the words "anti-imperialism" and "Bush colonial project", makes him one of the most important political commentators of our time.

Sad isn't it; that in this country we still can't get pundits to own up to the US' imperialistic politics.
posted by liza at 9:21 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


King, like all historical figures, has been simplified, perhaps sanitized, in historical memory. Like Mark Twain's anti-imperialism, Lincoln's accomodationist attitude towards slavery and sneering dismissal of interracial relationships, or Reagan's tax hikes, King's anti-imperialism is simply not part of his legacy in the minds of most Americans.

This post contains a plausible argument, but I suspect that few will see it the way the author does. It's perfectly possible, perfectly simple, for a person to oppose segregationist British policies in mid-20th century Kenya, but still support today's US foreign policy.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:24 AM on January 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


... Obama ... has some crucial choices to make about whether he will heed the other King, or whether he will get roped into the previous administration's neocolonial project simply because it is the status quo from which he will begin his tenure as commander in chief.

Obama's still beholden to the corporations that own the government. Guess which choice he'll make. As Guiseppe Zangara so elegantly said "All capitalists area lousy bunch of crooks."

I'm sick of all this Obama masturbation. Obama is not the yangsi of Dr. King. Nobody fit to carry King's legacy could ever be elected President of the United States of America.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:37 AM on January 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


Nobody fit to carry King's legacy could ever be elected President of the United States of America.

Arthur Silber - The Angriest Man On The Internet - puts it thus:

Even if we assume that Obama genuinely wishes to alter our political system, the critical point is unchanged: one individual cannot do it. It is folly to believe otherwise. More bluntly: it is deeply, profoundly stupid. And the truth is very different from this idiotic fantasy: Obama is the perfect embodiment of the system as it now exists. He will challenge it on no issue of importance. To the contrary, he will advance the goals of the ruling class and ensure that the powerful are fully protected. He will lie to you about all of this, as he already has on numerous occasions -- but as I have noted, many Americans, including many liberals and progressives, are enthusiastically willing to believe anything.

posted by Joe Beese at 9:42 AM on January 19, 2009


A single link to Juan Cole? GYOB.
posted by Heminator at 9:42 AM on January 19, 2009


I've always been really disappointed in how King's later years leading up to when he got shot get pretty much ignored.

Meanwhile, of course, the National Black Republican Association wants you to know that Martin Luther King was a Republican.

I'm so sick of this whole empire-denial bullshit.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:43 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.
And I don't mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!


King's last speech.
posted by empath at 9:50 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The US so neglects its educational system that relatively few Americans are exposed to world history in school. Few of them know that roughly from 1757 to 1971 the great European powers systematically subjugated most of the peoples of the world."

Eh? Have schools changed that much in the scant decade-plus that I've been out of the public school system? I may have been in the "smart kids" classes, but I know the sun never set on the British Empire for quite a while (I couldn't tell you the years or all the countries, but I think I have the gist of it). Sure, some people might mix up China and Japan when recalling the country that the US nuked in World War II. But I digress.

I didn't learn much of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr beyond his civil rights movement work, thanks for this. It's interesting to learn how various power-shifts rippled around the world (the birth of democracies in the United States and Europe, the gaining of rights and power in Africa and the United States).

Most iconic heroes of the past have been sanitized and simplified, partially through retelling of their greatness, partially through the forgetfulness of time. The facts still reside somewhere, but it's a lot easier to tell of the boy who was born in a log cabin who went to be president and emancipate the slaves, than say "well, he just didn't want people to get more slaves. He didn't really want to rock the boat that much, just nudge things a different way." Ditto JFK as a young deity, when in fact he wasn't all that hale and hearty. Oh, and Chris Columbus wasn't that great of a guy, and wasn't the first one to "find" the new world. But this is all simplified in the early tellings to gradeschool kids, so that's the first version you know. Many times, that first version is good enough to get you through most situations.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:56 AM on January 19, 2009


I remember how years ago when visiting the homes of black families I would often see a framed portrait of either John F. Kennedy or Jesus hanging on a livingroom wall. And it's partly for that reason I put up a framed portrait of Martin Luther King in my living room. But it's my opinion that it was his anti-imperialism that got him assassinated, and what he will be remembered for.

The convergence of Martin Luther King Day and Obama's inauguration means King will be there at the swearing in ceremony, everyone will see him there, and it'll be awesome.
posted by Restless Day at 9:56 AM on January 19, 2009


Oh, and Chris Columbus wasn't that great of a guy, and wasn't the first one to "find" the new world. But this is all simplified in the early tellings to gradeschool kids, so that's the first version you know. Many times, that first version is good enough to get you through most situations.

Except that those "good enough" versions carry all sorts of implicit values that color the way people think and behave throughout their lives. It isn't just an innocent case of simplifying things for the purposes of communication and understanding; hegemonic power replicates itself through the educational system by instilling certain ideas in people.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:08 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


You are dead on, Saxon Kane. Most people, even highly educated people, do not re-evaluate the simplistic version of history given to them in grade school. Whether it's on purpose or not, power is reinforced in this way.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 10:15 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Empath, you are forgetting the most important part of that speech and the one that killed MLK : the part where he dared to mark the "Poor people's march" as the beginning of a long and protracted battle for reparations and in a sense, economic de-colonization:
One hundred years later, the life of the negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatise a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a cheque. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned. Instead of honouring this sacred obligation, America has given the negro people a bad cheque which has come back marked "insufficient funds". But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this cheque - a cheque that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilising drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all God's children.
And notice that there's no space for "gradualism", the excuse racists give in this country to never have the government pay reparations to both negroes and indigenous US citizens as well as for refusing to think it appropriate for the US government to apologize for both slavery and the deterritorialization of native americans.

This speech didn't get MLK killed for wanting freedom ring. It got him killed for making the case for reparations as necessary for negroes to have full recognition of their civil rights and inalienable rights under the US Constitution --and as children of God.
posted by liza at 10:17 AM on January 19, 2009


btw, i have the full text of the "Let Freedom Ring" speech over at culturekitchen.
posted by liza at 10:20 AM on January 19, 2009


Related? MLK's Address on All India Radio, March 1959.
posted by chunking express at 10:37 AM on January 19, 2009


Obama != King. King was a crusader, Obama is an established leader. There are all manner of evils that King could point to and demand correction or reparation, but Obama has a country to run. And a troubled country at that. I think race will be a very small part of his legacy. If fact, I think he will only be successful if race is expressly not a part of his legacy. If people say, "He was the first black president," he will have failed. If they say, "He was a damned good president," he will have succeeded.
posted by Doohickie at 11:06 AM on January 19, 2009


Insofar as this thread honors the life of Dr. King, I wanted to add a link to my current favorite King speech. It's not as well known as others, but that allows you to realize anew the power of King's intellect and magisterial oratory, and once again defies our tendency to flatten him into a cliche or a mere symbol.

I hope this doesn't seem like a derail.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:25 AM on January 19, 2009


It's understandable that King lionized Nkrumah during the first heady successes of anti-colonialism. With a half-century of hindsight, it's disgusting that Cole continues to hold up as a shining example a man who made strikes illegal, wrote a Preventive Detention Act that made it possible for his administration to arrest and detain anyone charged with treason without due process of law, ordered strike leaders and opposition politicians arrested, overlooked the blatant corruption and abuse of power of his associates, and proposed a constitutional amendment making himself president for life of both nation and party (which passed with over 99 percent of the "vote"). But I guess all of that's OK as long as you wave banners with the right slogans.
posted by languagehat at 11:41 AM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


languagehat, i don't think he puts Nkrumah in a pedestal. he very explains why people like King at the time put him on a pedestal.

the historical context is what's important here. 20th century battles of decolonization were very important to 3rd world people like Nkruman, like Obama's father, like me and in a way like Martin Luther King Jr. He saw colored america as an inner 3rd world in the US and it's why anti-colonialism is at the root of King's activism.

he was a radical because he was willing to point and extricate, albeit with non-violent means, the root of all evils that terrorized colored in this country.

Juan is correct to remind of us that MLK was a radical and that at the heart of his radicalism was his anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist politics that was not so much couched on marxism as it was, as he very well points out, in a belief that colonialism, imperialism, slavery, apartheid, negates the equality all humans have under god's laws.
posted by liza at 12:15 PM on January 19, 2009


Obama is going to fix our political system by changing his fucking light bulbs.
posted by stet at 12:30 PM on January 19, 2009


Even if we assume that Obama genuinely wishes to alter our political system, the critical point is unchanged: one individual cannot do it.

See, the problem with this is the use of the word "assume". I don't believe Obama will alter the political system - I'm just hoping he doesn't continue the stupid policies of the past administration. That's all I'm hoping for.
posted by never used baby shoes at 12:32 PM on January 19, 2009


Thanks for posting this.
posted by lunit at 1:07 PM on January 19, 2009


languagehat, i don't think he puts Nkrumah in a pedestal. he very explains why people like King at the time put him on a pedestal.

I'd like to believe that, but I don't see a single thing in there that gives me any reason to think he doesn't put Nkrumah on a pedestal. Much as I admire a lot of Cole's reporting, he has a very simplistic, Manichean worldview, and I suspect in his world colonialism = bad, therefore anyone who fights colonialism = good.

the historical context is what's important here.

Yes, and an extremely important part of the historical context is that Nkrumah, like most of the early independence leaders, turned out to be a power-mad asshole once he achieved his original goal. It's important to bear that constantly in mind, because at this very moment we have the disgusting spectacle of a bunch of African leaders tiptoeing around the issue of Mugabe, preferring to engage in some kind of "quiet diplomacy" that achieves exactly nothing, because Mugabe is a Hero of the Struggle against Colonialism. May they all rot in hell, and may people outgrow that kind of simple-minded thinking.
posted by languagehat at 2:36 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's important to bear that constantly in mind, because at this very moment we have the disgusting spectacle of a bunch of African leaders tiptoeing around the issue of Mugabe, preferring to engage in some kind of "quiet diplomacy" that achieves exactly nothing, because Mugabe is a Hero of the Struggle against Colonialism.

You're absolutely right.

It would have been good if Cole made some comment about Nkrumah's later actions. Describing him as an "anticolonial trouble-maker" does seem dismissive what came later.
posted by homunculus at 8:49 AM on January 20, 2009


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