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Kai Wright on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Kai Wright, author of Drifting Toward Love: Black, Brown, Gay, and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York, wrote a piece for the American Prospect online in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination on April 4, 1968. "Dr. King, Forgotten Radical," is a call to rescue King's legacy from a narrative that undervalues his role as a radical activist for change.

We've all got reason to avoid the uncomfortable truths King shoved in the nation's face. It's a lot easier for African Americans to pine for his leadership than it is to accept our own responsibility for creating the radicalized community he urged upon us. And it's more comfortable for white America to reduce King's goals to an idyllic meeting of little black boys and little white girls than it is to consider his analysis of how white supremacy keeps that from becoming reality.

Take, for instance, his point that segregation's purpose wasn't just to keep blacks out in the streets but to keep poor whites from taking to them and demanding economic justice. There's a concept that's not likely to come up in, say, the speech John McCain was rumored to be planning for today. "The Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow," King lectured from the Alabama Capitol steps, following the 1965 march on Selma. "And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than a black man."

Wright's words aren't falling on deaf ears: the piece has already been cited in op-eds, at Utne Reader and, according to Technorati, on forty-three different blogs so far, including Alas, a Blog, War and Piece, and Crooked Timber.

You might also want to look back in our archives to read Kai Wright on helping teenagers who come out and the continued relevance of James Baldwin's understanding of race.