To Activists and Advocates: Turn Away from Shaun King
From Umber.LIFE, Jan. 2019: As we recognized the 90th year of Martin Luther King’s life, there is no reason for real activists to support this King anymore.
January 15th, 2019 marked 90 years since Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born. His entire life and existence quaked the very landscape of activism, not just for the black American identity, but he has become a model for almost every modern movement or moment for advocacy in the last 50 years.
Dr. King’s work for Black America made strides towards equality for African-Americans and all people of color in the United States, and Barack Obama’s election to the presidency led many to claim his infamous “Dream” had been fulfilled. However, Black people in today’s America are still struggling for equity, and our current society is built and thriving from the slavery and racism that this country was founded with. Activism for the Black Identity is far from done, but the movements that have risen since Dr. King’s assassination (among others) have not shared the same linear path.
The Black Lives Matter movement is an example of this. While one of the largest modern organizations dedicated to advocating for the black identity, leaders and chapters of the movement may not share the exact same goals — as all movements do. Deray McKesson and Erica Garner were two leaders with differing messages or methods, just like Adam Clayton Powell and Bayard Rustin or Dr. King and Malcolm X of the Civil Rights Era. There’s nothing inherently wrong with disagreement with others in the movement, but real activists know that as long as all are committed to the ultimate goal is being worked toward.
Dr. King recognized this, and even delivered sermons in 1957 on the subject of “personality integration” in activism, as he called it, or “Conquering Self-Centeredness”. In his own words:
“An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. And this is one of the big problems of life, that so many people never quite get to the point of rising above self. And so they end up the tragic victims of self-centeredness. They end up the victims of distorted and disrupted personality.”
Everything Dr. King told us about ego-centered leaders applies to pastor, writer and social media influencer Shaun King. This King, a pastor, writer and social media influencer known for the viral posts of black peoples’ death and publicity he has bought to subjects around racial and social injustices, has bought more controversy to himself (and thus, the Black Lives Matter movement) then leadership and advocacy for his followers. From his days as a “Facebook pastor” and blogger for the Daily Kos (where his recommended piece is aptly called “Race, love, hate, and me: A distinctly American story” tagged with multiple self-titled hashtags), Shaun has always centered himself in his activism. Outside of writing on Black Lives Matter or Black Identity-related stories, he spends most of his time writing about himself. True or not, he uses his experiences and his background to appeal to readers or followers, to connect his work more to himself than to the subjects of his writings or activism. Many have claimed that these experiences are falsified, plagiarized, or straight lies — and not just opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement, but mostly those within it.
Shaun King’s entire track record has a large history of questionable actions and alleged lies. He has been accused of lying about his very identity and upbringing as a biracial man and subsequent assault due to his race in Kentucky. Such as with the Courageous Church in 2010 and HopeMob.org in 2012, his fundraising efforts and income information has been questioned by the people he allegedly was raising money for, and no one can seem to find the exact amounts raised or given by Shaun or his associated entities. He has published — intentionally or not, even if one is due to the incompetence of an editor — multiple false writings. Activists have claimed he has used their ideas and writings, promising to support them, just to claim credit for them himself after publishing similar articles or stories. Former employees and collaborators of his have called him out, such as when former Directors of Justice Together claimed “Shaun’s failure to communicate and lack of accountability, and the ongoing secuiruty risk of volunteers’ personally indentifiable information” hurts the Black Lives Matter movement. The employees there said Shaun spent most of his time running the organization to promote his New York Daily News and Daily Kos articles, and offered no explanation for why the group folded in 2015 and left many activists without a job or coalition to support them. Following Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly accusing him of keeping the money from the coalition, Shaun claimed that many of the people asking for refunds of their donation money were lying, but then said he did not have any of the money, yet subsequently claimed to have returned it all in a Medium post where he highlights all the work he has done for free and the little amount he raises for “his own work”; The Justice Together members that said they received their donation backs over a year later claimed they were not refunds from the same organization they donated to, according to the records of the transactions. Shaun then started a now-defunct website to debunk lies called “ShaunKingTruth.com”, even though he never addressed any of the questions raised by Justice Together directors or activists, but rather anti-Black Lives Matter people.
He spent much of 2016 supporting and promoting Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and recently started a Political Action Committee with multiple ex-Sanders campaign members dedicated to funding the campaigns of District Attorneys who are “reform minded”; Sanders’ campaign has come under fire for the culture of violence and harassment allowed within it, for paying women less than the men on staff, and many of the former campaigners continued on to work with others that support those that are anti-Black Lives Matter, such as Beto O’Rourke; His Real Justice PAC has been accused of using “Big Money” funds to support anti-justice candidates. Several times since the Justice Together debacle, Shaun has made false, public accusations against multiple people, such as identifying a vehicle and its license plate supposedly involved with the shooting of Jazmine Barnes, and a Texas State trooper accused of raping Sherita Dixon-Cole — Shaun has not issued apologies for these mistakes, but instead silently deletes them from his accounts. He then publicly identified three black suspects of Barnes’ killing on Twitter, before their arrest. None of these people received apologies or the benefit of the doubt before Shaun publicly accused them.
That’s ironic, considering Shaun’s latest slight: His personal attack of Clarissa Brooks, who is Black, Queer, Muslim activist and a graduate of Spelman College, the sister school of Morehouse, Shaun’s alum. She was one of several activists that claimed that he was raising money and keeping it from their intended recipients; King responded by directly targeting her — tweeting her account multiple times and publicly claiming plans to file lawsuits against her. (At least two of the four lawyers Shaun cited as his own have denied representing him.) He later issued an “apology”, where he claimed that Brooks was still the person in the wrong, but that he didn’t mean to come across as aggressive; Brooks did not accept this apology. Her former teacher, David Dennis, wrote for NewsOne that “if [Brooks’] accusations are so damning, then where are the emails and lawsuits aimed at white people who have said King is a white man and spread “false stories” about him for years? Why are black people the target of these threats? That’s not an act of uplifting or unity from a self-proclaimed activist who likens himself to Martin Luther King, Jr., as he did on Tom Joyner’s radio show”. He has never proven or shown where a majority of the funds he has raised have gone too, or if he received the monetary award for the eventual finding of Barnes’ killer. As Goldie Taylor wrote in The Daily Beast regarding the 2015 fundraising accusations, “What is necessary now is a laying out of the books. King can and must open his records, stretching back to his disaster relief efforts for Atlanta and Haiti, for independent inspection. And, when it’s over, he should publish that report online. It’s time to clear the record. Unless and until he does, King’s credibility as a social justice leader of any note hangs in the balance.” Shaun has yet to do that and other than the organizations he runs or represents, nothing has changed about his above-reproach approach to criticism. His recent idea, The North Star, which is named after and aims to follow in the same footsteps as Frederick Douglass, also appears to have no differences then Shaun’s past organizations in its goals and ambition — furthering Shaun’s own version of activism.
There are plenty of accusations and stories about Shaun, that you can believe or not. There is no doubt due to his ability to speak and publicize issues within the Black Lives Matter movement, that Shaun has helped further their goal; however, in the movement’s own words — “We must ensure we are building a movement that brings all of us to the front…We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum.” Shaun has repeatedly made clear that he does not share this intent. When he founded one of his fundraising non-profits, TheHopeMob.com in 2012, he claimed that this was the “embodiment of ‘Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s real dream’ and the ‘kind of the contemporary expression of what Dr. King would do if he were alive today.’ His co-founder, Dave Gibbons, claim that Shaun is the perfect ‘misfit’ to follow as a leader, “because of who he is as a person, and specifically, we like how he has dealt with his pain and how he also has a heart for justice.” But like many that cite Dr. King as a leader, claiming that Shaun is following in Dr. King’s footsteps in any way is a perversion of his own words. It is not my goal to prove Shaun’s guilt nor do I benefit from negatively speaking of him, but he has irreparably harmed people he could be helping, teaching, or defending instead, as Dr. King and other trailblazing activists have.
Shaun’s use of his personality and following to affirm his own ego, to publicly attack anyone (on Twitter or otherwise) that he believes goes against him, and to refuse to answer to his past mistakes or lies but rather pretending they did not happen, all goes against Dr. King’s model of activism, and hurts all advocating for Black Americans. Lawsuits and PACs do not further the movement. Going against Black Lives Matter’s guiding principles of “Black Women and Queer affirming, Loving Engagement, and Empathy” does not support their movement. Being publicly defended by Tariq Nasheed, who has claimed White women are more oppressed than black women and promoted the rise of false Frederick Douglass-descendant and fraud Umar Johnson, is not in any way good for the movement. Sending lawyers, police, and social media followers after anyone of his choosing is not what the Black Lives Matter movement is about, but it’s Shaun King’s own trademark move. His claim that “People need to understand that failure is not fraud” does not exonerate him. As we celebrate his work on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let’s not devalue Dr. King’s name anymore by claiming Shaun King shares any form of advocacy as the Nobel Piece Prize recipient.
“Every person must decide at some point, whether they will walk in light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness…You conquer self-centeredness by coming to the point of seeing that you are where you are today because somebody helped you to get there. [N]o matter where you stand, no matter how much popularity you have, no matter how much education you have, no matter how much money you have, you have it because somebody in this universe helped you to get it. And when you see that, you can’t be arrogant, you can’t be supercilious.”
Until Shaun King is willing to answer for his questionable record, respect even those who question or attack him, and stop affirming white supremacy, true activists have and will continue to turn away from him or his “activism”.