My apologies to you, Dr. King.

Until this year, I did not fully recognize my offensive behavior. Like most white folk, I saw the celebration of your birth as a day off work rather than a moment of national reflection. I was unaware of how we’ve neutered the poignancy of your complaints, defanged the sharpness of your rhetoric and domesticated the wildness of your dream.  I did not realize that we celebrate your birth in order to avoid the circumstances of your death, that a white man silenced your voice with a bullet.  Until this year, I did not understand that this day – unlike Thanksgiving and Fourth of July – should not be a day of celebration, but a day of national mourning.

My apologies to you, Dr. King.

Until this year, I was oblivious to how I and so many other white people – conservative and liberal alike – have taken your name in vain. We have popularized our favorite quotes without reference to your consistent themes.  We have repackaged you as a good negro – patient, gracious, reasonable and respectful.  Though our grandparents thought you uppity, offensive and dangerous, we portray you as preferable to Black Lives Matter, implying you wouldn’t share their concerns, complaints or strategies.  Until this year, I didn’t comprehend how fully we’ve dishonored you.

My apologies to you, Dr. King.

To those of us who know so little about you and your concerns, I hear your complaint that, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” I acknowledge the shallowness of our interest and I apologize.

To those of us who blame the lack of economic progress by people of color on people of color, I hear your retort that, “It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself up by his bootstraps.” “Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.” I acknowledge the callousness of our disdain and I apologize.

To those of us who criticize people of color when they take to the streets to demand justice, I hear your reminder that, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” I acknowledge the truth of your analysis and I apologize.

To those of us who accuse Black Lives Matter folk of being as extreme as the white supremacists, I hear your rebuttal that, “The question is not if we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”  I acknowledge your condemnation of our false equivalencies and I apologize.

To those of us glory in our tolerance of people of color, offering them a smile and a handshake rather than the justice they so desire, I hear your conclusion that, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” I acknowledge your impatience with our lack of sincerity and I apologize.

To those of us who find the shooting of an unarmed black man by the police a statistically acceptable occurrence, I hear your indictment, that, “We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.” I acknowledge your frustration with our lack of urgency and I apologize.

To those of us who think you would be pleased with our racial progress and complimentary to today’s white person, I hear your prophecy that, “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.”  I acknowledge the legitimacy of your fears and I apologize.

To those of us who have neutered, defanged and domesticated you, I hear your judgment that, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”  I acknowledge the fairness of your critique and I apologize.

Dr. King,  while you were willing to be arrested and jailed for what you believed, we have passively tolerated the reversal of many of your most hard fought victories.  If anyone is to blame for your unfulfilled dream, it is us.  Today, on this day of reckoning and mourning, I pledge to take your concerns, complaints and commitments more seriously, to be one of those white people who sees and hears you as you are and not as we would have you be.

My apologies to you, Dr. King.


10 thoughts on “An Apology To Dr. King

  1. James, this is wonderful! What a timely reminder for those of us who see ourselves so clearly in your words. We have so much yet to do, so far still to go. Thank you for once again pointing a meaningful way forward.

    I know you will have seen this, but Charles M. Blow’s piece “Trump Is a Racist” in the New York Times (January 14, 2018) is excellent.


      1. James, after reading Kendi’s article, I decided it was time to read his book, Stamped from the Beginning. With apologies to Taylor Swift, look what you made me do!


  2. Reblogged this on The Liberal Mis·fit and commented:
    Incredibly well written. It distresses me to think that many of us, white or of any color, have been comfortable in believing that not being a racist is the same as being supportive and proactive in Dr. Kings’ dreams for civility and equality. I truly felt that we had made immense strides towards achieving that endeavor and in reality we have moved only inches. In reality we are still in 1968 in our approach and with time, the real message has been lost . I needed this aide-memoire and I didn’t even know it.


  3. Mr. Mulholland, as always, your message never ceases to amaze yet educate me on the ideas of “the positive members of the other side.” But the formatting of this piece is remarkable. To use Dr. King’s quotes as the evidence of your apology is simply astounding.



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