As a rule, it’s a mistake for most politicians to tell the public what Martin Luther King Jr. would believe if he were alive today. Someone probably ought to let Mike Huckabee know.
Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee believes Martin Luther King, Jr. would be “appalled” by the Black Lives Matter movement – telling CNN that racism is “more of a sin problem than a skin problem.”During an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday evening, the former Arkansas governor touted the “all lives matter” mantra and said he was troubled that the movement focuses on one ethnicity. Huckabee added that the late civil rights leader would feel the same.
According to the Politico piece, Huckabee said, “When I hear people scream, ‘black lives matter,’ I think, of course they do…. But all lives matter. It’s not that any life matters more than another. That’s the whole message that Dr. King tried to present, and I think he’d be appalled by the notion that we’re elevating some lives above others.”
Let’s unwrap this a bit, because Huckabee may not understand the issue nearly as well as he thinks he does.
The Black Lives Matter movement was, at least in part, a response to a series of violent incidents involving police officers killing unarmed African Americans. Part of Dr. King’s “whole message” was focused on this issue as it existed a half-century ago. Indeed, In King’s most famous speech, he specifically proclaimed, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
So, right off the bat, Huckabee’s notion that MLK might somehow object to, or be uncomfortable with, the Black Lives Matter movement seems dubious.
But more troubling is the degree to which the far-right Republican seems to have no idea why the Black Lives Matter movement exists.
The New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal had an excellent piece on this today.
The point of “Black Lives Matter” … is that the lives of African Americans have come under special and deadly threat since before the birth of this country.Those who protest police violence directed at black Americans, like those who fought slavery, lynching and other forms of racial terrorism, are not by any rational interpretation saying that white lives matter less. (Although it is indisputable that white Americans’ lives are not under institutionalized threat from the police.)They are simply asking that their own lives be treated with equal dignity, respect and protection. That was Martin Luther King Jr.’s message, even if Mr. Huckabee and others on the right edge of white privilege willfully misconstrue it.
When the GOP presidential candidate hears “black lives matter” – note, Huckabee complained about the phrase being “screamed” – he hears an “appalling” message. For the former governor, there’s no reason to “elevate some lives above others.”
What Huckabee has evidently not done is actually speak to anyone active in the Black Lives Matter movement. If he had, he’d learn that activists aren’t “elevating” anyone above others, so much as they’re reminding a society not to be indifferent towards those facing unjust deadly violence.
Of course all lives matter; that’s not the point. Some lives are needlessly in danger, and the movement hopes to open some closed eyes.
A friend of mine told me a few weeks ago to imagine someone telling their neighbor, “My father just died and I’m heartbroken.” The neighbor should say, “That’s awful; I’m so sorry. How can I help?” But if the neighbor responds, “A lot of fathers have died, and since I believe that all parents matter, it’s wrong to elevate yours above others,” he’s lacking in a certain basic decency.
Rosenthal added, “Rich white men responding to protests over police brutality against African Americans by saying, in effect, ‘white lives matter too’ is like men responding to indisputable evidence of discrimination against women by whining about ‘men’s rights.’ Yes, men have rights. And so do white people. They’re just not being systematically threatened.”
The fact that Mike Huckabee can watch this national debate unfold, and so badly misunderstand the basics, says something unnerving about the kind of national leadership he intends to provide.