This M.L.K. Day, America Has a ‘Long Road Ahead’


Reeling from the attack on the Capitol, Joe Biden and other politicians have insisted that the violence does not represent “who we are” as a nation, pledging to bring the country together under shared ideals and to reject Trump’s divisiveness once and for all.

But writing last week in The Undefeated, the critic Soraya Nadia McDonald took issue with the president-elect’s insistence that the country’s true identity had nothing to do with what happened on Jan. 6. “I’ve long found these sorts of proclamations baffling, because if one is honest about the history of the United States, it prominently features white violence, terrorism and revanchism, particularly toward Black people, Indigenous people and women,” McDonald wrote.

This calls up King’s own words about America’s commitment to mythmaking. It’s not just extremists and self-proclaimed white supremacists who engage in this practice, the civil rights leader said.

“Negroes have proceeded from a premise that equality means what it says, and they have taken white Americans at their word when they talked of it as an objective,” King wrote in his 1967 book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” White Americans, however, often think of equality as “a loose expression for improvement,” King wrote. When it comes to the gap between Black and white prosperity, white America “seeks only to make it less painful and less obvious but in most respects to retain it.”

Certainly, Biden often speaks in concrete terms about his expansive plans to invest in Black wealth generation, overhauling the criminal justice system and combating environmental racism. He and Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect, have in fact been more willing than arguably any other presidential ticket in history to speak explicitly about their plans to address systemic inequality, from an economic and a social perspective.

But along the way, they will also have to confront America’s addiction to its oldest myths — and the ways that its newest technologies keep them alive and evolving.

In the days since Jan. 6, right-wing broadcasters and social media voices have begun to push a false narrative of what happened at the Capitol, blaming the riot on left-wing groups and Black Lives Matter activists. Of course, no evidence of this has emerged, and the intruders had zealously made clear their intentions to overturn the result of the presidential election.

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