Mind Your Media

Mind Your Media: Manipulating Martin

“…I have not said to my people ‘get rid of your discontent’.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior – Letter from Birmingham City Jail

Last week on the internet, I noticed someone with a following misinterpreting Dr. Martin Luther King’s words. Since last month was the month of his birth, I shouldn’t have been surprised. 

And although the person’s speech was grandiloquent their intent was clear: They were trying to cast aspersions on people whose means of pursuing justice doesn’t meet their standards. 

They were relying on a classic tactic: The general public has very a very positive image of Dr. King. Yet far too many people believe the substance of King’s anti-racist stance can be found in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Although an important piece of oratory, people are prone to focusing on its inspiring imagery. They overlook something that King and his followers know to be true: Racism is not a simple issue, and it cannot be solved via superficial means. 

In spite of this, many believe that in order to solve racism, people ought to sanitize their language. As far as they’re concerned, people like me must be careful not to offend those who have hurt their fellow humans in the most horrible of ways. 

Yet if one person abuses another, should they not be made aware of the pain that they have caused?

Seeing Dr. King’s words used in an attempt to stifle anti-racist activism, at first, I thought of tagging Dr. Bernice King. She is a master at correcting people who manipulate her father’s words. Thankfully, though, I also remembered something else: Last year among other unread books, I had purchased A Testament of Hope. Edited by James A. Washington, Testament is an anthology of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings and speeches. 

This weekend, I began to read the book’s introduction. As I went, I paused. Suddenly, I felt an urge to flip through its pages. I wanted to see if any particular statements caught my eye. And that’s where today’s quote came from.

Some may woo their audiences with smooth rhetoric. They may try to use statements from Dr. King as a cudgel to degrade Black people. But I want you to know something:

It is not wrong to be uncomfortable with racism. Never mind the ugly lens that some use to frame the outspoken among us. It is not wrong to want people to do better than be bigoted towards their fellow human beings. 

Some really believe that people like me ought to be ashamed for wanting things to change. Those individuals want a of sanitized version of the world where those who harm others do not face consequences. 

As for the words above, I’m thankful for Dr. King. I already knew that works such as his Letter contained sentences that certain people will object to. And in the days to come, I look forward to discovering more of them.

Photo by Unseen Histories via Unsplash