Be Wary of the Sunken King: Reflecting on the Humanity of Our Heroes

By S. (January 16, 2018)

If you’re a black person who was born after Dr. King died you were probably subjected to white people (possibly teachers, professors, mentors, role models, actors, friends, etc.) tell you how amazing Dr. King was and then have the same person turn around and engage in a racist behavior.

Since his death, Dr. King has been invoked by white people to gaslight and deny. Somehow the visage of Dr. King was pulled down into the Sunken Place and transformed into the ‘good negro’. The Sunken King tells us to play nice, not get all uppity, to be nice, and behave. The Sunken King demands this from all of us regardless of our race. We are taught to see Dr. King as a something bigger than human, something better than you, or I could ever hope to be. Dr. King was special, he was burn special with special gifts, gifts that you can’t access. You can try to be like him but you will never be as good as him. Of course it is not just Dr. King, Albert Einstein is better than you too. His genius is something that no matter how hard we work we can never attain. Mother Teresa was literally sainted because she’s so much better than you too (spoiler: she was actually quite monstrous in denying pain meds to sick and denying people because their suffering glorified Christ). There’s also Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela (the dangers of being placed on a pedestal perfectly embodied by one woman), Golda Meir, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Aung San Suu Kyi, and many many more.

The idealization of these people pisses me off. It’s a way that we control ourselves or our controlled by those who prefer the status quo. Dr. King is transformed from a defiant figure of resistance into a tool of the status quo. Einstein’s significant life challenges are erased with the conferral of genius status. Mother Teresa’s work with the poor goes underscrutinized be we’ve placed her on a pedestal.

These were human beings. They had some specific gifts that they were born with. They were all fortunate to end up in situations that nurtured their gifts. In addition to gifts, they gained skills. Somebody, possibly many bodies, invested time and money into each of them so that they could develop their skills and gifts. They then found themselves in situations in which they got to demonstrate those skills and gifts to the world.

Guess what?

You were born with gifts. You might be able to nurture them. You might not. You might not be able to gain the type of skills that thrust you into the global spotlight. You might not. Life can be challenging and capricious. The truth is none of these people are better than you (and most of them would be the first to tell you if they could). They may have had more impact than you. They may have done more than you but no one person is better than any other.

Let these people inspire you, but be inspired by their weaknesses and their failures as much as their successes. Be inspired by their real humanity, not their Sunken Place personas. If you need someone to look up to who is better than you, look up to who you will be tomorrow, and try to be that better person.

One thought on “Be Wary of the Sunken King: Reflecting on the Humanity of Our Heroes”

  1. We are all broken, but in our broken-ness, we meet humanity. To be vulnerable is, I believe, the hardest place to share with others. But it is in this state that we find our true humanity…empathy that births compassion. I once believed that our social justice work was only as good as how it was practiced in our own homes. I now understand that we often see the suffering of others as a call to social justice work without truly understanding our own place of suffering. To fully understand the impact of our childhood and the layering of hardship in life is hard work and very time consuming.
    Nevertheless, it is exactly this work within that we must begin to reconcile.
    Many who have changed the world with their heart-held conviction that good can come out of their own suffering should not be glorified nor worshipped, but act as a stepping stone for striving towards “the good way”. None of us, not one is righteous and this is the true essence of universal equality. But within this state we call humanity, there is a call to the heart that, I believe, is heard. For me, this call whispers: “keep empathy close, remember tolerance, and forgive deep wounds”. We can hate the act and still love the person.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.