One reason why Martin Luther King, Jr. is an interesting political figure is because his words are some of the few that both liberals and conservatives try to exploit for their own benefit. It’s amazing how racial issues – such as the protests and riots ongoing in Baltimore – bring both sides running to try to claim that if MLK were alive today, he would assuredly be on “their side.”
First, there’s no way in hell that MLK would be a modern-day Republican. Any conservative who actually believes that is an absolute fool. While it’s true that the KKK was created during a time when the Democratic party was indeed racist, the hate group now aligns with far-right aspects of the GOP. Hell, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise gave a speech at a white supramicst event and got to keep his job.
If he were a Democrat, I can guarantee you he would have been pressured to resign – not defended by his party’s leadership.
That being said, liberals are often just as quick to distort MLK’s messages if they can make them suit their agenda.
Take for instance a line many have used to justify the rioting and looting that’s going on in Baltimore and that went on in Ferguson just a few months ago:
“A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Now, it’s true, King did say that line. And I’m sure many who come across the headline of this article will paste that line in the comments section without reading the article itself. But when people use it to defend violence, they’re taking it completely out of context. You see, when King uttered that famous line, he wasn’t endorsing violence, he was simply offering his opinion as to why some might act out in such a way. In fact, in the speech when he said this line often used by many on the left to justify rioters and looters, he was still clearly opposed to such behavior:
“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
People need to understand that King explaining why he thinks some choose to riot is very different than him endorsing those who do. If I explain why someone does something, that doesn’t mean I support what they’ve done, it just means I know why they might have done it.
For example, if a person is bullied and tormented by one person for most of their childhood into their teens to such a brutal extent that one day they violently took the life of their bully, I could explain why they acted out with such violence – but that doesn’t mean I would endorse what they did.
But it’s clear from King’s speech that while he understood why some resort to violence, he knew that violence wouldn’t accomplish anything. It’s why he always advocated for non-violent means of protest. He knew then, as most know now, that violence solves absolutely nothing.
All this rioting and looting has done is divert attention away from what led to Freddie Gray’s death and shifted it to a back and forth argument over whether or not the riots are justified, and all that does is divide us even more.
So, instead of wondering what MLK might think of these violent riots (which he would almost certainly oppose) why don’t we focus on what he would do in the face of injustice? Had he been someone who endorsed violence to fight oppression, he wouldn’t be the man so many look upon today as not just one of the greatest civil rights leaders of all-time, but as one of the greatest American icons in our nation’s history.
It’s time we all start following the example set by Martin Luther King, Jr., instead of just using his quotes to try to justify behavior that he almost certainly would have opposed.
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