Sorry about the clickbait-y headline. This piece actually has almost nothing to do with the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. It’s just that the commentary surrounding MLK is illustrative of a problem that needs attention. Before getting into it, as a sort of introduction, I will answer the headline’s question. Yes, I knew that people hated Dr. King. Of course I did. How could you not? I’ve read “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. The whole premise of which is that he had been arrested for protesting and a group of white pastors condemned him for his behavior. The letter was his response to being hated on. Oh, and, you know, he was murdered because people hated him so much.
You might be wondering what on Earth I’m talking about. But this is the state of discourse right now. People present information that is banal or obvious (at best) as if it’s provocative and then congratulate themselves for speaking up. Here’s a headline that ran in Smithsonian Magazine in 2018, “Even Though He Is Revered Today, MLK Was Widely Disliked by the American Public When He Was Killed“. Here’s one from The Guardian from today, “MLK is revered today but the real King would make white people uncomfortable“. I honestly don’t know that it’s possible to know who King was without knowing that he was widely disliked and made (and continues to make) white people uncomfortable. He was the face of a protest movement against the dominant social norms in America. I don’t know if I should give a trigger warning before saying this, but Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln were all hated and made people uncomfortable, too.
This is a huge problem and rather intricate. It’s much too much for me to tackle here. It affects advocacy through their reliance on intersectionality and identity politics. It affects the media through the culture wars and various media outlets’ focus on each other instead of any broader issues. It’s rampant throughout the social sciences. We’ve gotten to a point where we don’t see the difference between labelling something and doing something. You can scream, “patriarchy,” all you want without tearing down a single bit of structural iniquity. I don’t feel like I’m doing a great job of explaining it, so I will come back to it in the future, but there’s just a lot of self-satisfied complacency out there. Stop stating the obvious and start telling us what we can do to change things.