The Misappropriation of MLK's Quotes
And it continues. As much of the United States is still dealing with a global pandemic, people are taking to the streets to demonstrate against police brutality and the needless killing of yet another African American. This time it was Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This situation has gravely escalated as 17-year old; Kyle Rittenhouse from Illinois traveled across state lines and has murdered two individuals and injured a third. Rittenhouse is a white male who in multiple videos has been shown talking and working with police officers in the area. This is a tragic situation and in no way will the protests and demonstrations end. In fact, they will continue to escalate.
In 1966 Martin Luther King said that “A riot if the language of the unheard.” Listening to many different channels you will hear today’s protests and demonstrations get described in a variety of ways, but rioting is one of them. That term is used to stoke fear about the protestors and their message, while sowing hate and racism at the same time.
Another popular practice is to use the words of famed leaders in the African American community to denounce the actions of those protesting, frequently by white people or those on the opposite side of the conversation. It is a play that is dusted off from the same ole playbook all too frequently. And it is happening today. There are two quotes from MLK that have popped up in recent months, used to silence the people calling for and pushing for change. Those quotes are as follows:
“One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.”
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
There are others, but these are the first two that jump off of the page when they are used to denigrate the efforts sought after by those marching in the streets, speaking on air, striking during a sports season, kneeling or doing whatever they can to draw attention to the cause. The purpose is clear: we will use someone you should see as a hero to denounce your outcry.
What is interesting is when you look at both of those speeches the words are being twisted. In the first speech he was condemning America’s involved in the Vietnam War. In the same speech where the second quote comes, he talks clearly about standing up to systematic oppression, Black Pride and much more. All quotes that are frequently ignored.
In fact, there are several militant quotes from MLK that are not quoted because they show that he was willing to support civil unrest and disobedience as needed pillars in the fight for social justice. The white washing of history happens frequently. It is happened with America’s slavery-based past. It is happened with quotes from MLK, Malcom X and others. It is happened with sports figures like Muhammed Ali and Jim Brown. And it will happen with the civil unrest going on in the country today. Using quotes from MLK is yet another racist tactic to silence those who are already oppressed.