you might not actually like him

it’s dr. king’s birthday, and his message has sadly been trivialized. i remember as a child being taught that he was a man that wanted racial equality for all. nothing more, nothing less. he was the antithesis of malcolm x, who was a lil too militant. and so, with this domesticated holiday, we can commemorate dr. king’s courageous stand against racial intolerance, while avoiding the harder task of grappling with his radical politics of equality and what they might mean today. (for more, see the martin luther king you don’t see on tv.)

dr. king led civil disobedience campaigns against what he described as the “unjust” war in vietnam. he declared america “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” and pleaded for our nation’s leaders to practice non-violent conflict resolution. in the mccarthy era, dr. king challenged young men to not support anti-communist american campaigns by refusing to join the u.s. war machine, in part because such campaigns made victims of poor non-whites. he ripped u.s. foreign policy, calling it “militaristic” and on the “wrong side of a world revolution.” in ways that would make every young republican shudder to the core, dr. king advocated for a radical redistribution of power and wealth in america in the form of a government compensatory program to the tune of $50 billion over ten years. yes, he’s talking about reparations.

so in many ways, a holiday truly celebrating dr. king’s life and legacy can’t simply focus on a single speech in front of the lincoln memorial. the holiday, if it is to be what it claims to be, must have two basic functions: to legitimize dr. king’s radical social/ political agenda and to deligitimize any social structure that supports racism, a free trade market economy, an anti-communist foreign policy (yeah that ones controversial), and a politics that tries to repress the power of the state rather than one that exists to spread power through the redistribution of wealth & complete reconstitution of society.

i’m torn about his icon status, because what he now represents has usurped who he really was: a man with a powerful dream and a whole lotta other stuff, including close ties to communism, marital infidelity, and academic dishonesty. but when we reduce dr. king to just a man with a dream of racial equality, we lose sight of the complexity of his life’s message and times.

that dr. king’s message is so closely linked with god’s kingdom is great. i whole-heartedly agree. but it is ironic because he would not earn the support of the evangelical voters bloc. not in a million years.

World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.


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