April 4th marks the anniversary of the assassination of one of, if not the most, well-known black man in America. America’s education system lacks much historical inclusion of leaders that do not fit the elite, white, male, stereotype but every February the education system (at times begrudgingly) shoves its modified version of what the ideal civil rights activist looks like down our children’s throats. Today is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was indeed the man of conviction, empathy and intelligence that is portrayed in your history books. He was a man who stood up for the African American community in times of inequality. He was a family man, a scholar and a friend but this depiction of MLK as someone who was thoroughly opposed to violence when acting in civil disobedience is yet another inaccurate narrative about people of color. This idealist view has been used to seemingly uplift the success and legitimacy of the civil rights movement in an attempt to invalidate recent outrage about the disproportionate and savage killings of people of color all across America by those meant to serve and protect those very people.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests have made national news and have become a spectacle to the world. Peaceful protests to police brutality and the numerically stunning numbers of people of color that are killed every year by law enforcement in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, MO, ended in what was portrayed by the media as riots. Those who reacted and utilized their right to protest in civil disobedience were met with a militarized police response to with armored vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets.
The passionate outcry about these deaths both in peaceful protest and said “rioting” were criticized as extreme and “wrong” by everyone from the evening news, to MLK’s niece herself, calling BLM’s methods “inappropriate.” Mike Huckabee alleged that MLK would be “appalled” by BLM’s strategy to address racial injustice, “you don’t do it by magnifying the problems,” he asserted, continuing, “I understand how people have great passions. But I also understand that the way you begin to resolve them is, you do it by loving people and treating people with dignity and respect, and you don’t do it by magnifying the problems—you do it by really magnifying the solutions,” he said.
The tired assertion that white Americans, who have not felt the wrath of racial discrimination, systematic oppression and in these very emotionally surreal cases the loss of a loved one at the hands of oppressors know better, has to end. Claiming to understand and then condemning the emotional response of a grieving community by using a historically prominent black man (that was assassinated for doing just as those with BLM are doing) is grotesque.
“Now is the time to look at the leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement and others like it with the same compassion that we look back at our civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr.”
King may have been a man of “dignity and respect” as Huckabee asserts but he was also the victim of attacks by police dogs, high-pressure fire hoses, and intended police officers’ bullets. His actions were also called too aggressive, too disruptive and said to drive people to violent uprising. It is only through the whitewashing of our history books that MLK’s actions have been praised as peaceful.
In a letter to MLK three clergymen urged black Americans to reject King’s leadership and adopt peaceful means to achieve racial equality. King’s peaceful movement, they said, was anything but and they were not wrong but not due to his actions, due to the actions of his oppressors. In the “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” he explains to the clergymen that, in fighting racial injustice, the goal of his demonstrations was “so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” So, violence was not something that simply happened to activists; they invited it. This is not to say that violence was something that was enjoyed but it was expected and used to expose the cruelty of the It was critical to the movement. People were able to see the realities of what it meant to be black in America. The rest of America was able to see how people of color were treated even when peacefully expressing their unrest with the status quo.
In the end, King’s contribution to the ever-present struggle for racial equality has yet to be matched. He was a man that we can all strive to be more like, preaching love and compassion and actively putting his life on the line to see a future that would hold equal possibilities for everyone. King set the tone for movements like BLM to flourish. Both were opposed by more than half of Americans, both have been met with violent confrontations and used that to attract national media attention, and both have been criticized for their “violent” or “aggressive” tactics.
Now is the time to look at the leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement and others like it with the same compassion that we look back at our civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. Now is the time to take a step back and realize that times have not changed as much as we might have hoped and become more than allies, we need accomplices.