Monday is Martin Luther King Day, which means lots of people who vehemently oppose Black Lives Matter, school desegregation, race-conscious policies and movements against police brutality will tweet the “I have a dream” quote and tell you they idolize Martin Luther King.
Of course, if you stand against everything but the very baseline of what King stood for, it’s disingenuous to try to score “I-believe-in-equality” political points on this day of remembrance. But thanks to the white-washed version of MLK that we learn in schools, we allow people who oppose race-conscious policies to pretend they’re fervent MLK supporters.
On this MLK Day, take a moment to learn some of King’s true thoughts on race, class and the civil rights movement.
On White Moderates
“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” — Letter From a Birmingham Jail, 1963
On “Right to Work” and Anti-Union Laws
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. . . Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone. Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.” — 1961 speech (also note that Right to Work laws have racist and anti-Semitic roots)
On Capitalism …
“Again we have diluted ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the protestant ethic of hard word and sacrifice, the fact is that Capitalism was build on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor both black and white, both here and abroad.” — 1967 speech
… And Capitalism Again …
“What they truly advocate is Socialism for the rich and Capitalism for the poor.”
… He Really Hated Capitalism.
“The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.” — 1967 speech
On Anti-Welfare Campaigns
“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.” — The Atlantic
On White Comfort
“The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable for fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.” — Where Do We Go From Here?
On White Ignorance
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans…These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races. Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.” — Where Do We Go From Here?
On Black Protest (For the anti-Black Lives Matter MLK supporters)
“I contend that the cry of “Black Power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.” — 60 Minutes interview
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This is what Martin Luther King stood for—racial and economic equality as justice demanded, not on convenient terms. If you celebrate Martin Luther King but oppose what he stood for, think about why that might be, and whether you should rethink this inconsistent worldview.