Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dr. Bernice King would like you to stop whitesplaining her father's words back to her, thanks

Dr. Bernice King, Jimmy Fallon
Dr. Bernice King, Jimmy Fallon
Screenshot: The Tonight Show

“No kidding, wow, yeah,” was Dr. Bernice King’s eye-rolling response to Jimmy Fallon noting that, as the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, she has “big shoes to fill” as an activist. Calling the fight for social justice “the lifeblood” of the King family, King—herself the CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change—appeared on The Tonight Show from her home to address, well, everything that’s going on in the country right now. And well she should, since the massive and unrelenting protests against racist police violence and systemic racism taking place on the streets of cities in every state (and other countries) are, speaking of footsteps, often marching to the words of her father. Noting that Martin Luther King was, at the time before his 1968 murder, one of the most hated men in (white) America for leading such protests, Dr. King praised those marchers and demonstrators who are continuing her father’s legacy of nonviolent protest and defiance.

She, as one of the familial keepers of that legacy, also had some words for those who are coopting that legacy—and her father’s words—for purposes antithetical to essentially everything her father was talking about. Of course, there are those self-justifying white people who are taking to Twitter to “Well, actually” MLK’s children themselves about what it is their father really meant. Which is peak whiteness. Just quintessential, talcum powder, confectioners’-sugar-on-a-vanilla-cupcake whiteness, especially when you’re a smirking little bigot writing for a laughably racist right-wing “news site,” telling the accomplished activist daughter of a man whose actual goals and black skin you actively hate that her dad would totally be on his side in his site’s whole white victimhood fantasy narrative.

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Of course, Dr. King didn’t say any of that to Fallon, instead simply reminding people that the King family has dedicated their collective lives to preserving not just placard-friendly quotes of her father’s, but MLK’s context, meaning, and true intention in speaking them. Dr. King also had polite but firm words for protesters who have taken to using her father’s definition of a riot as “the language of the unheard” as justification for engaging in the sort of protest violence that was anathema to his whole philosophy. (A fact that made him controversial even in the black activist community.) Pointing out that her father’s journey from despised to beloved since he’s been gone has freed terrible people everywhere to cherry-pick out-of-context quotes to twist to their own, often shameful ends, Dr. King told Fallon that deconstructing an unjust system and “reconstructing on a foundation of love, justice, and nonviolence” is her father’s true and living goal. And that, yeah, she and her family will continue to come for you when you pervert that for your nonsense.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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