We Shouldn’t Whitewash Martin Luther King’s Legacy
January 27, 2017
Filed under Opinions
Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.
Email This Story
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was Monday, January 16. Pretty much everyone knows who he is, what he did, and what he stood for — or at least, they think they do.The holiday is dedicated to the man, his work, and the tragedy of his death.
But why did he have to die? This was something I couldn’t understand when I was younger, and even now it’s hard to grasp. Martin Luther King. Jr., (MLK) only 39 years old, was assassinated, shot through the neck and face while standing on a hotel balcony, according to the History Channel. James Earl Ray later plead guilty to the crime and confirmed himself as a racist (history.com). It’s easy to chalk up the ugly racism behind King’s murder as something of the past, but is that what King himself would have wanted?
Consider this: In today’s world, he is highly praised. To many Americans, he is the face of equality, and fraternal love, as well as a role model, a good man with good Christian values. However, too many people forget what he stood for. We’ve all hear the “I have a dream…” speech, but not everyone realizes that King was a revolutionary. When he was alive, he was hated and unpopular among White Americans. He received received countless hate letters from them, many of which eerily mirror the rhetoric the next generation of White Americans would use to criticize the Black Lives Matter Movement (fusion.net).
History books have robbed him of the raw, honest way he called out White privilege and fought White supremacy. Any time someone uses King as an example to belittle or shame Black protestors, or organizations like Black Lives Matter, his memory and message are grossly perverted. In a 1966 speech, King himself said that “riots are the language of the unheard” and emphasized the importance of riots on social change (mic.com).
While we’re lost in the pages of history books, it is easy to forget what Martin Luther King truly stood for. According to The Washington Post, he did not believe in a color-blind society. Instead, he believed that we should be aware of race and how it affects society. Additionally, when he argued about race, he did not just stop at segregation in the South. He argued for the end of economic inequality between races, police brutality, and White supremacy. He was also anti-war, anti-militarism, and anti-capitalism (washingtonpost.com).
Today, most Americans swallow the story of a watered-down — well, let’s just say it how it is, whitewashed — King. The more radical shades of his person have been filtered out by White America’s historical screen. Many of us see him as a preacher of peaceful protest and civil disobedience, while we criticize Malcolm X for his violent tactics. White America would have us see that they’re opposites, and that Malcolm X was the antithesis of Dr. King; actually, the two radical Black activists shared many of the same ideas about the world around them (theestablishment.co).
Despite his sterling reputation these days, King was constantly under scrutiny from the government and the media. The FBI illegally wire tapped King’s conversations under the guise of national security (theatlantic.com). An agent of the FBI even tried to blackmail King into killing himself (nytimes.com). Additionally, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and several major news outlets publically denounced King (washingtonpost.com). They all thought that they were in the right for doing this. But here, half a century later, we forget that this happened and celebrate MLK day.
What does that leave for us, the next generation of Americans, with everyone claiming that they are on the right side of history? What does that mean for the history with which we leave our children?
It is probably difficult for most Americans to accept the reality of Dr. King. Accepting him as he was means accepting that the problem of racism isn’t over, and that his shooting wasn’t just an isolated incident that can be explained away with a happy epilogue. It means acknowledging the insidious racism in our society: the racism that erases the integral facets of Blackness and paints one innocent Black activist as a saint and another as a sinner. Martin Luther King, Jr. wouldn’t have wanted to be remembered as a simple martyr or a relic of a more racist time. Instead, we must remember him as a revolutionary and continue his fight against White supremacy.