Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr: 3 Things That Annoy Me
Let’s keep it real when honoring the great man
Happy Martin Luther King, Jr, Day, friends,
This is the time of year when MLK quotes abound. It usually begins leading up to his actual birthday on January 15 and sometimes continues all the way into US Black History Month in February. As I started thinking about what I usually see in the media and elsewhere, I realized that there are a few things that bother me about how his legacy is framed. Here’s a short list of those annoyances.
1. Using Partial Quotes and Coopting His Words
A quote is, by nature, part of a longer piece, but it really annoys me when people take the great man’s words out of context to create a sense that he never really intended. Whether it’s from the “I Have a Dream” speech or something less well known, it’s time for it to stop. And it’s not just me: his daughter, Dr. Bernice A. King, is pretty ticked off about it, too.
Related to that, I get super annoyed when people (usually white people) quote MLK in an attempt to silence anti-racist voices. It’s ironic, when so much of his life was about speaking out. This story from Melanin Basecamp on Instagram shows some examples. And here are some more from Laura Edmonson. (If the Melanin Basecamp link above isn’t working for you, go to their profile and check out the MLK Whitewashed highlight.)
See also this article by Hannah Drake: Dear White People, Before You Post Dr. King Quotes To Make Yourself Feel Good…
2. Pretending He Was Universally Loved
To hear some people talk, you’d think everyone always loved MLK, but we all know that wasn’t the case. The FBI considered him a threat and tried to destroy him, and most white people at the time hated him.
As his daughter said on Twitter: “Please don’t act like everyone loved my father. He was assassinated. A 1967 poll reflected that he was one of the most hated men in America. Most hated. Many who quote him now and evoke him to deter justice today would likely hate, and may already hate, the authentic King.”
3. Forgetting How Radical He Was
When many people think about MLK, they think about peaceful, non-violent protest and that famous speech. But there was a lot more to him than that. This is a man who dedicated his life (and lost it) fighting for justice. And other, less quoted words, speak of his disappointment with white liberals, and the need to disobey immoral laws. If you haven’t read it yet, his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” shows some of his less discussed qualities.
To quote Bernice King again: “The authentic, comprehensive King makes power uneasy & privilege unhinged.”
My wish, today and every day, is that we acknowledge everything that Martin Luther King Jr was and said, and we do so, not just on one day, but all year round. It seems disrespectful and disingenuous to do otherwise.
Thanks for reading,
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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Getty Images.
I am an anti-racism writer, a professional B2B writer and blogger, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. If you value my perspective, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.
I saw what Bernice King did there "the authentic King"
Another way of getting the nuance and complexity of his intellectual/moral legacy is to listen to his collection of speeches. I recommend The Landmark Speeches and Sermons of Dr Martin Luther King Jr boxset.