In the 1980’s I was working as a consultant to the engineering department of a large chemical company. Like many US corporations around that time, they had looked at the the changing demographics of the US population and figured out that their future workforce couldn’t be all white and all male. White people were going to be a decreasing proportion of the population. and their just wouldn’t be enough of them. So they needed to change their corporate culture enough that black and brown and yellow and female people would find it acceptable. This, in corporate-speak, was called something like “celebrating diversity.”
In practice this meant hiring consultants to put on “diversity” programs and meetings. The majority of people working there probably understood the point, and were supportive or at least accepting. But some were not, and this is hardly surprising. After all, the culture was not only “white,” but Southern, “conservative,” Republican, and upper-middle-class. Many had grown up, as did I, seeing “Martin Luther King is a COMMUNIST” billboards. Having been taught all their lives to dislike, if not to hate, King and what he stood for, it’s not surprising they felt betrayed by their managers’ change of tune.
What was the fundamental beef with King? That he was uppity. That he asked for too much. That he was unreasonable. That he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Above all, that he was do damn charismatic and effective.
At my client’s offices, I had this to say: Honoring the trouble maker King, 20 years safely dead, doesn’t take a lot of courage. Deceased troublemakers mellow with time. The real test of our sincerity in supporting the righting of injustice is how we are treating the troublemakers who are active NOW. Who are the annoying Black leaders active at the moment and how can we support THEM?