[P2P-F] Fwd: Obery Hendricks on MLK's legacy--with comment by Rabbi Lerner

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Tue Jan 17 08:33:19 CET 2017

please read Rabbi Lerner's critique of identity politics:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rabbi Michael Lerner at Tikkun/NSP <magazine at tikkun.org>
Date: Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 9:41 AM
Subject: Obery Hendricks on MLK's legacy--with comment by Rabbi Lerner
To: Michelsub2004 at gmail.com


You can read this article by Obery Hendricks on line at:

Editor's note:  Having just returned (Monday, Jan. 16, 2016) from
participating in a demonstration and march in Oakland, Ca. today in honor
of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr, I was glad to receive this
submission to Tikkun  (below) by African American studies professor (and
Tikkun magazine author) Obery Hendricks. It is an important counter to the
kind of rhetoric and tone I heard at today's demonstration. At the rally
before the march began  I heard one of the M.C.s ask the crowd to repeat
"we will win by ANY MEANS NECESSARY"--a slogan I first heard from the Black
Panther Party in 1968--in clear attempt to repudiate King's message both
then and now about how to fight racism.

*King, as you will recall, was a devout believer in the sanctity of the
means, not just the ends, and hence insisted that the movement he led must
be committed to nonviolence. *When I met with King a month before he was
murdered, I mentioned to him that his commitment to nonviolence was part of
what many Jewish interpreters of the Torah's command "Justice, Justice
shalt thou pursue" (*tzedeck, tzedeck tir'dof*) insisted upon. "Why repeat
the word "justice" twice?" they asked. And their answer: "because the
struggle for justice must be pursued in a just manner," which for many of
them meant in a nonviolent manner. Those who cheered the "by any means
necessary" slogan may not have even understood that they were repudiating
King's message--but they did know that those words have been understood by
demonstrators and activists for the past fifty years to mean that if some
of them believe that violence is necessary that it is an acceptable
choice--just the opposite of what King taught.

This same distortion of the ethical message of our movement is part of why
it was such a sin for the Nobel Prize committee to award the Nobel Peace
Prize to Barack Obama, whose speech in acceptance of the award was really
an apologia for "any means necessary" and whose subsequent years as
president in which he acknowledged directing drone attacks at suspected
terrorists in circumstances where innocent civilians were certain to also
be killed ("collateral damage" is one of the most disgusting phrases of
contemporary government sanctioned mass murder) makes him yet another U.S.
president who leaves office with much blood on his hands (his
Administration acknowledges hundreds of such victims; human rights monitors
of his attacks estimate the numbers in the thousands).

One reason nobody challenged this discourse is that it was said at the
rally by an African American woman.  As one activist said to me, "white
people have privilege and therefore have no right to challenge African
American women in their discourse." This, of course, is the curse of
"identity politics" with its silencing of debate not on the basis of having
a better argument, but rather because whatever is being said is coming from
someone judged to be "more oppressed than you." I know this discourse well,
because I grew up in a Zionist world where many Jews used this same
argument to silence others (both Jews and non-Jews) who dared to  challenge
Israel's oppressive treatment of Palestinians. The Holocaust, not some
distant 19th century slavery but the actual murder of their own  family
members (one out of every three Jews alive on this planet in 1939 were
murdered by 1945), became the basis for insisting that no one had a the
ethical standing to question the means that the Jewish people had chosen to
create safety for ourselves in the 20th (and now 21st) century. So I
learned early how perverse identity politics could and would become, as
very decent Jews replaced the injunction to nonviolence that had
predominated through much of Jewish history with a blanket "by any means
necessary" of our own!!!!

No wonder that it is hard to build a powerful enough anti-racist movement
in the U.S. if its public spokespeople allow such discourse in their name,
a discourse which besmirches the high ethical goals and means that made
Martin Luther King Jr. a hero to tens of millions of Americans and who got
Americans to rally against racism both during his lifetime and for several
decades thereafter. Lets make MLK, Jr's message, as beautifully remembered
and reframed by Obery Hendricks below, become the central discourse of our
struggle for a world of love and justice! To see what that might look like,
please also read the vision of the Network of Spiritual Progressives at
www.tikkun.org/covenant and then join us!

--Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun   RabbiLerner.tikkun at gmail.com

*Meeting Martin Luther King Again for the First Time*


 I first met Martin Luther King at the age of seven at Bob’s Barber Shop
(“Baba Shop” we pronounced it) on a once busy avenue in East Orange, NJ, a
few blocks from the Newark line. The federal government’s voracious Urban
Renewal (read: “Negro Removal”) Program has long since reduced Bob’s and
everything around it to rubble, but what I heard and learned there
throughout my youth informs and enriches me still.

Like so many black folks’ barbershops, Bob’s was much more than a place for
a shave and a haircut. It was a welcoming epicenter of cacophonous organic
intellectual exchange by passionate, good-natured men who, though mostly
unlettered – forced by poverty to leave school early for sweltering fields
and stifling timber mills, or consigned to Southern chain gangs for
trifling or imagined offenses to white folks’ sensibilities – they were
nonetheless possessed of intuitive intellectuality, clear-eyed political
instincts, and thankful appreciation for a place to unleash the soaring
thoughts their workplaces had no use for. I loved their earthy speech, the
poetry and drawl of their humor, the sheer musicality of their words. But
no matter how their discussions began, no matter how or where they
wandered, without fail they found their way to the cocoa-skinned young
preacher with the sober affect and voice like cool thunder who was their
Moses and Joshua both. To them his was a one-word name, a title even,
intoned in their unstripped Southern accents with such breathless respect
that they barely took time to pronounce it: “MarthaLuthaKang,” he was. *Martha
Lutha Kang*. The sound of his name comforted them, inspired them, imbued
them with a species of hope and pride that none but those who have been
broken and reborn can rightly understand.

“MarthaLuthaKang integrated them buses and lunch counters, even got folks
voting, and ain’t fired one shot. Ain’t used fist nor gun.”

“I got to give that MarthaLuthaKang a whole lot of credit, cause I’ll be
dog if I’ma let some white folks beat on me until they get tired.”

“MarthaLuthaKang say it ain’t just about taking a beating. He calls it
‘nonviolent resistance’.  Let white folks get all their hate out so we can
all love our neighbors as Jesus say.”

“MarthaLuthaKang the only Negro that one set of white folks put in jail for
a criminal and another set of white folks take out for a hero. Now, that’s

But where there are thinkers with strong passions, there is always some
measure of dissent.

“Well, y’all can go on with that integration stuff if you want to. But me
myself, I ain’t interested in riding nor eating with no white man. I just
want somebody to integrate my money is all, turn my money green. If
MarthaLuthaKang do that, I’ll eat a hamburger with George Wallace anywhere
he say.”

“MarthaLuthaKang ain’t interested in no money like some of these preachers
thinking they supposed to live like kings. He just wants justice in America
for every colored man, woman and child. Poor white folks, too. And for all
of us to love our neighbor the same way we love ourselves. That’s all he
want and all he do. ”

“That MarthaLuthaKang is something else, ain’t he?”

The admiration of the barbershop men for King perched on the precipice of
awe. For my part, I beheld him with the wonderment that young boys reserve
for superheroes. Away from the barbershop environs I pronounced his name as
it was intoned at Sunday School, on the radio and the six o’clock news. But
in my heart he was who I first knew him to be: MarthaLuthaKang, who was
revered second only to Jesus by everyone important in my world. So
MarthaLuthaKang he remained.

Until he did not.

As I struggled through the confusions and recalibrations of pubescence, my
imagination was captured by a force that changed me forever: the Black
Power Movement. Its rumblings were brash, its rhetoric defiant, its styles
and symbols, seductive. After a steady diet of Kingfish, Beulah, Aunt
Jemima and Buckwheat, I saw young black folks standing tall, standing firm,
proud of who they were and dedicated to serving their beloved and
beleaguered communities; neither skinning nor grinning nor in any way
paying deference where it was not due, standing up for themselves and their
communities against police who sometimes would rather crack a black skull
than eat lunch. When these rogue bearers of badges betrayed their oaths to
protect and defend, choosing instead to brutalize and humiliate, these
brave young men and women defended their communities with eloquence of
speech, unwavering courage and dedication, sophisticated strategies and
knowledge of the law, and the occasional fist if circumstances demanded.
King’s appeals for love, for “redemptive suffering” and nonviolence –which,
I realized, I’d never been fully comfortable with – now seemed both foolish
and sadly weak compared to the fearless young people with their black
berets, their black leather jackets, their dashikis, orbital Afros and
intricate hair braiding. Martin Luther King in his funereal suits and his
tradition-laden preachments did not stand a chance with urban youths like

So with palpable disdain I cast aside the saint of black barbershop
philosophers and beleaguered black folks everywhere. But why was it so easy
for me to so unceremoniously throw aside a man behind whom so many
willingly ventured through the valley of the shadow of death, a man who’d
long been my hero, and was still hero to so many?

I see now that I was able to dismiss him with such youthful arrogance
because I had no idea who Martin Luther King really was. By then
MarthaLuthaKang the venerated had been replaced in my mind by Martin Luther
King the defamed and woefully misportrayed: King the “We Shall Overcome”
dreamer of toothless dreams, King the world-class panderer to white
largesse, King the preacher of celebrated oratory and naïve,
self-abnegating pleas to embrace those who would slaughter our young and
often did.

So in truth, I banned King from my pantheon of heroes because I did not
know the truth: that beneath the carefully disciplined oratory, beneath his
trenchant appeals to love and forgiveness, beneath the countless
unchallenged beatings and homicidal assaults, in reality, Martin Luther
King, Jr., was more radical than I could have ever imagined. Despite my
years of barbershop tutelage and the ubiquity of his singular voice and
visage, despite my certainty that the six o’clock news and Black
Nationalist rhetoric had taught me all there was to know about him, it is
clear now that I knew him not.  Seduced as I was by the blanketing gaze of
those who opposed him in life (and now misportray him in death), I had no
way of knowing that when King said, “America, you must be born again;” that
when he said, “You have to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a
revolution of values;” and when he said, “There must be a better
distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic
socialism,” that in these pronouncements he was not simply talking around
the edges of the challenges America faced; he was calling for sweeping
changes in the very economic and political structures on which America
stands. I mean, how could I have possibly known that when he said, “Our
goal is to create a Beloved Community” which “will require a qualitative
change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives,” that he
was not just spouting smarmy sentimentality, but meant instead an America
radically reconfigured as an egalitarian democratic socialist political
economy (with the emphasis on “democratic”), in which all of God’s children
would have equal access to the fruit of the tree of life?

But now I do know. And may it be known by all that Martin Luther King was
not only a dedicated fighter for racial justice. He was also a politically
radical thinker who had long nursed the visionary hope of restructuring in
the image of justice the economic order in this country that so routinely
profits the rich and even more routinely impoverishes the poor. To one
reporter he acknowledged as much. “You might say that we are engaged in a
class war,” he said without remarkable boldness.

But today we have hollowed the boldness of Martin Luther King by hallowing
him into America’s apostle extraordinaire of kumbiyah and teary-eyed
handholding. The radicality of his vision and praxis is all but lost. Yet
in these fraught times we need to reclaim the boldness and clarity of
vision of the leader of the most effective movement for justice that this
nation has seen, or at least be informed by it. For if the hateful,
divisive campaign of Donald Trump is prologue to his presidency, we are
faced with the greatest potential onslaught on civil liberties, love for
our neighbors, justice under the law and social responsibility that America
has endured in half a century; it threatens to rend the very fabric of our
democracy society.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was slain as he forged ahead with that “class war”
that still confronts us today, slain on the cusp of realizing a last dream
that we must now claim as our own – a Poor People’s Campaign to press for a
restructuring of America’s social architecture into a nation that will wax
ever more just and ever more equitable – wax and never again wane. Not a
utopia, but a true Beloved Community, imperfect yet perpetually trying to
do right; ever striving through its legislated policies, its dedicated laws
and most love-tempered edicts to answer the call of the prophet that long
ago set King upon his own Samaritan’s road, to “let justice roll down like
waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Obery Hendricks teaches religion and African-American studies at Columbia
University. He is the author of *The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the
True Revolutionary Teachings and Jesus and How They Have Been
Corrupted *(Doubleday,


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