Mychal Denzel Smith // Americans both black and white often use the civil-rights leader’s memory more to chide black youth than to inspire them.

Martin Luther King’s Memory Is Sometimes Used to Criticize Black Youth – The Atlantic – In the 50 years since his assassination, the memory of King, as fuzzy a thing as memories are, has been used as a cudgel of moral authority. Americans have crafted a version of King that is a perfect black manhood. People of varying political stripes have appropriated the legacy of King and used his perceived moral superiority as a way of upholding an idea of societal change that rests on personal conduct and respectability, rather than grassroots organizing and power building.

Memes circulate explaining why black men are supposedly no longer taken seriously, juxtaposing photos of King in his trademark black suit, crisp white shirt, and stern intellectual glare against those meant to represent modern-day black men, with gold teeth, sagging pants, sometimes brandishing weapons, but often not even needing to go that far. The message is clear enough: There was once a black man who was respectable, so much so that he managed to alter the course of American racism by the sheer force of his respectable demeanor. Those days are gone and as such black people will continue to suffer.

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