As it turns out, Rob Schneider isn’t the only white man who likes to whitesplain Martin Luther King Jr. As a big Bernie fan (but not a BernieBro), I was shocked to see his utterly tone-deaf Facebook post about MLK this weekend, which basically said, “On this day, let’s remember what MLK did for white people.”
The full post reads (emphasis mine):
Martin Luther King, Jr. was not just a great African-American civil rights leader. He was much more than that. He was one of the great American leaders in modern history, a man of extraordinary courage. Dr. King helped lead the fight not just against racism, but against the unjust and immoral Vietnam War. He led the fight to fundamentally change our national priorities, questioning why we spent so much on the military, and so little for human needs. And please remember: when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, he was standing alongside exploited garbage collectors and their union in the fight for decent wages and working conditions.
Oh, lordy. Where to start.
A) MLK was, of course, not only a civil rights activist. He was also a father, and a minister, and a Southerner, and probably a pie-maker at some point. Why the fuck is that relevant right now? He doesn’t HAVE to be anything other than a great civil rights activist. That is, of course, his primary legacy, and it’s a damn great one.
B) “African-American”? He was born in Georgia.
C) What the fuck is your deal, Bernie? Why can’t you let POC have one day, literally ONE DAY per year when their struggles are the ones that matter? This is the political equivalent of shouting “All Lives Matter!” at a BLM rally.
Look, economic equality is obviously part of racial equality, and it’s a worthy cause regardless. If this had constituted one paragraph in a long post about MLK’s work in civil rights, it would have been fine. But no. Bernie, a white man, decided to appropriate one of the greatest black activists of all time for a cause that is at the forefront right now specifically because of disgruntled poor white people.
Whites have a long history of whitewashing MLK and appropriating him for their own causes. Like Rob Schneider, Bernie is essentially saying, “Yeah, yeah, it’s fine if you want to advocate for black people. But can you do it in a way that benefits white people too? Or at least doesn’t make them too uncomfortable?” And if the accusation of whitesplaining isn’t enough to shame Bernie, maybe being in the same sentence as Rob Schneider will.
Many have been quoting this passage from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in an attempt to “reclaim” MLK Day, but apparently it bears repeating:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
This attitude is upsetting, but not entirely surprising coming from Bernie. Ever since the election, he’s been shamelessly pandering to Bernie bros and Trump supporters, trying to galvanize racists and misogynists behind his passion for economic equality. And while economic discontent was a factor in the election, it was not–as conservatives would have you believe–a decisive factor. You can’t claim that Democrats lost the working class when they won the working class of every race but white.
And here’s the thing: I like Bernie Sanders. He sticks to his guns far more than almost any other politician today, which is why he’s at turns viewed as a revolutionary and a single-issue candidate. And it’s fine to focus on one primary issue as a politician; I imagine you get more done that way. But Bernie Sanders, a white man, does not get to decide that it’s worth it to sacrifice women and POC on the altar of economic equality. Economic inequality is caused, in part, by sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry, and if he doesn’t fully acknowledge that, then he will only ever end up helping the disenfranchised whites who voted for Trump.
And even if he really does believe that the ends justify the means, you know what’s a good day to court Bernie bros? Any day but MLK Day. Just for future reference.