Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. He sought for racial justice and equality for blacks and poor people through virtually nonviolent means up until his death in 1968. That’s the basic and simple image of who Dr. King was. However, decades after his death, his legacy has been easily misrepresented, misinterpreted and misused to advance political and social agendas usually against the people Dr. King fought for.
Many folks of today seem to only remember Dr. King for one thing, his “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963. More specifically, they remember that one sentence where he mentioned about judging one’s content of their character, not the color of their skin. Many people seem to have misinterpreted that as a call for colorblindness. What’s worse is that some, mostly conservative, use it not in it’s intended context but instead to avoid any kind of racial responsibility.
Conservatives are notorious for using their version of MLK whenever the subject of discrimination against black folks and general racial inequality is mentioned or exposed. They use their disfigured knowledge of King’s vision, that he was supposedly a conservative Republican, against anyone who suggest that America must take responsibility for their role in creating, sustaining and benefiting from racism and reorganize itself into a system where all people have equal chances and rewards. So, things like affirmative action would be looked down upon by someone like their Dr. King.
But alas, the right is not known to be reality or truth-driven in their pursuits to maintain the status quo. If they were, the status quo would’ve crumbled, something they won’t allow. Dr. King wrote in Why We Can’t Wait the following passage:
“Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro.
Few people reflect that for two centuries the Negro was enslaved, and robbed of any wages–potential accrued wealth which would have been the legacy of his descendants. All of America’s wealth today could not adequately compensate its Negroes for his centuries of exploitation and humiliation. It is an economic fact that a program such as I propose would certainly cost far less than any computation of two centuries of unpaid wages plus accumulated interest.”
Most conservatives prefer to ignore the past or not consider it having any significant impact on today. Nor do they believe that blacks are being or have been racially oppressed in any way. They rather believe that today’s black person have equal opportunities, and the only thing holding them down are themselves. Some believe they have more handed to them in the form of welfare and affirmative action. And some hard right wingers believe they don’t deserve any “special treatment” regardless of how they were or are treated.
But most of all, they appear to not know or not care to know that in the past, Dr. King was widely hated among white Americans. Maybe that’s why his legacy has been heavily malformed, to ease the guilt of white Americans, to tell them that racism is not their problem or a problem in general. And no doubt, if Dr. King were alive today maintaining his same views on racism, conservatives would target him as a leftist, a communist and(or) racist, an enemy against innocent white people. There would be no attempt to whitewash him. Instead, he would be blacklisted among the right, negatively painted as a dangerous leftist by conservative pundits. He would be placed on the list of the most despised black leaders alongside Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. And if he wasn’t assassinated then, someone would try, thanks to the influences of white supremacist hate sites and Fox News.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s image of being a radical fighter for economic and racial justice has been watered down by the mainstream as a nonthreatening leader who spoke about a post-racial society. The white-owned corporate media and even many school text books would not dare to discuss the Dr. King that spoke out against the Vietnam War, wanted to eradicate poverty and demanded economic equality, reparations for black people and that white supremacy was one big fat lie used to keep black folks down. That was the real Dr. King, the one that conservatives and many white folks would hate with a passion.