Conservative Christians are doing to Martin Luther King Jr. what internet jokesters did to Michael Jordan.
The latter has turned the image of the greatest basketball player in history into a running gag. Want to tease the fans of a team who just suffered a humiliating loss? Put the Crying Jordan meme in a tweet, never mind the irony that one of America’s most accomplished men is being used to denote failure. (The viral meme of a smiling Usain Bolt being chased by runners whose heads had been replaced with Crying Jordans was particularly side-splitting.)
The Crying Jordan meme is mostly harmless fun. He’s still in the hall of fame, owns the Hornets and probably has the White House on speed dial. He’s still able to push back. But what conservative Christians have done to the image of King isn’t funny.
Want to chide those fighting against inequality? Tell them King would have protested differently. Shame young people for showing anger after suspicious police shootings? Say King was never divisive. An NFL quarterback takes a knee to raise awareness about injustice? Bash him by saying King would have done the opposite.
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The latest high-profile conservative Christian to defame MLK’s memory was Dabo Swinney, head coach of the Clemson Tigers, a team coming off an appearance in last season’s national title game.
In between praising Jesus and saying he respected Colin Kaepernick’s right to protest, and even Kaepernick’s cause, Swinney substituted the memory of the actual MLK for a perfectly-constructed Crying King meme.
Crying King wouldn’t have been involved in a peaceful protest to highlight injustice the way Kaepernick has. Crying King would never sit or kneel – even while disrupting no one – like that afroed-football player in San Francisco.
Crying King would have made sure no one was ever offended, would have complied with everything those in power told him to do. He would have avoided making anyone uncomfortable and would have never – ever – have used the platform he was given to root out evil, because that would have been disrespectful to the church the way Kaepernick’s protest is disrespectful to football and the American flag.
Crying King would have consulted conservative Christians before acting, begging their approval about the proper way to protest against black men and women being shot and harassed by police.
Crying King would have never had the courage to pen a treatise like “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written by the real King, the one who was such a thorn in the side of white (and comfortable black) America that he was one of the country’s most-despised leaders when he was assassinated.
Crying King would have made sure little kids were not only not bothered with having to face real-life, uncomfortable issues while chomping on an $8 hot dog in a stadium full of people watching grown men chase a pigskin, he would have never – ever – supported kids facing down dogs and water hoses and mobs of white racists threatening a lynching, and sometimes carrying them out.
In fact, Crying King would still be alive because no one would have wasted the bullet that blew off the real King’s jaw. There would have been no need. Crying King would have had his priorities straight, making sure that white conservative Christians are allowed to enjoy their football in peace and be content in a world in which they are full Americans even as their dark skin brothers and sisters remain on the wrong end of too many racial disparities.
Bailey is a former columnist and editor for the (Myrtle Beach) Sun News. On Twitter: @ijbailey.