“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
America is putting this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote to the test. Currently, a pandemic and political turmoil — both riddled with lies, conspiracy theories, selfishness, and ignorance — highlight the divide that persists between Black and white America. Since MLK’s death, Blacks have seen astounding progress: Barack Obama exemplifies this.
But just how much has changed in America? How far have we come?
Black cries for breath are still met with an oppressive boot, while exclamations of white rage are welcomed through gates and met with selfies. Since the days of Reconstruction, this has not changed; Black progress has always been met with hate and repudiation: Donald Trump exemplifies this.
With history being repetitive, it’s interesting to see which MLK quotes have aged well, but for all the wrong reasons.
“America must begin the struggle for democracy at home. The advocacy of free elections in Europe by American officials is hypocrisy when free elections are not held in great sections of America” — February 12th, 1958
Following our first failure at a peaceful transfer of power since the Civil War, this quote’s first sentence is obnoxiously timely. The second sentence is timely, yet it’s modern-day manifestation is insidious. No, I’m not talking about the thoroughly debunked notion that Democrats stole the 2020 election. I’m talking about voter suppression of Blacks.
When Obama won the presidency in 2008, it was the first time we elected a president who didn’t win the majority of the white vote. The same thing happened in 2012. This symbol of Black progress was met with hate and repudiation in the form of America’s resurgence of voter suppression (oh and white nationalism).
Since 2010, over 20 states have passed laws making it harder to vote, and these laws disproportionately affect people of color. Suppression efforts were aided by 2013’s Shelby County V Holder, which ruled that states with histories of voter suppression no longer have to clear their voting practices with the Department of Justice.
Fifty-three years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, his call for a grappling on democracy and elections free of voter suppression remains relevant.
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right” — February 6th, 1968
With hundreds of Congressional Republicans voting to overturn the American voting majority’s will — based on nothing more than baseless lies, partisan fealty, and political expediency — this is another obnoxiously timely quote.
The quote also directly ties into the Black experience. In 2020 we watched a Black man get murdered by a policeman as three other policemen stood guard. As horrific as this blatant disregard may seem, it’s common enough to have a coined phrase: The Blue Wall of Silence. The Blue Wall is an informal code of silence among police officers, urging them not to report their colleague’s errors, misconduct, or crimes — including police brutality.
In 2020 we still see Black men murdered by government employees. Most of their fellow employees have no qualms in aiding and abetting this murder because they’re placing the politic and popular position, over their conscience.
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other” — October 15th, 1962
It’s ironic that with all the telecommunications power in 2021, people not communicating with each other is still an issue. But many layers make this quote highly relevant today, and like with the other quotes, there are both political and racial implications.
Firstly, fear drives so much of our politics. Each side is far too frivolous in their willingness to stoke fear in their base, turning them against the other. It’s incredible the baseless conspiracy theories someone will believe about the opposing party. The thing is, if we just talked to intelligent people from the opposing party, we may see that we have more in common than we realize. We should recognize that generally speaking, the other side is more deserving of civil discourse than fear.
However, social media and technology have heightened political polarization by shepherding people in echo chambers and ideological bubbles that stifle communication with the other side, thereby stoking ignorance and fear. Check out this article for tips on engaging in civil discourse.
This has racial implications when we look at how segregated America’s neighborhoods — and therefore, our schools — are. Children who grow up removed from contact with Black people are much more likely to form their opinions of Black people based on whatever fear-stoking stereotype they see in movies, music, or media. If people take the time to communicate with and get to know us, you’d see we’re just like other people — except with more swag.
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor 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”— April 16th 1963
This is so crucial for people to understand. You don’t have to be racially discriminatory to be racist. If you have Black friends but think Black people look like monkeys, you’re still racist. You don’t have to be in the Ku Klux Klan to uphold white supremacy. If you think white people hold more wealth because of cultural reasons and not systemic advantages, you have white supremacist views.
Too many whites (who would never call themselves racist) are perfectly fine with Blacks continuing to occupy the lower rungs of society as long as said white person doesn’t personally witness any tension. The 13th amendment intentionally allowed slavery to continue under the guise of mass incarceration, and Blacks are disproportionately policed, killed by police, arrested, and sentenced; if you’re “moderate” issues of injustice like these then you’re progressively against Blacks.
I like this segue into the next quote…
“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” — August 28th 1963
“There’s plenty of successful Black people.”
“Racial discrimination has been outlawed since the 60s.”
“You guys got a Black president.”
(and my personal favorite)
“I’m white and I’ve had a tough life.”
These phrases are oft-uttered to minimize and deflect the racism that exists in the lived experiences of Blacks in America. Guys, I had a history teacher tell me that although he witnesses racism all the time, successful Blacks like Kobe Bryant is proof that systemic racism doesn’t exist. The oversimplification and trivialization of something so complex borderlines on disrespect.
Here’s the deal, Blacks are not satisfied, nor will we be satisfied until we eliminate injustices like:
- Mass incarceration/Privatized prisons/prison industrial complex
- Sentencing disparities in courts (especially death penalty)
- Police brutality/corruption
- Voter suppression
- White nationalism/white supremacy
- Negative stereotypes
- Racially-biased media coverage
- Hate crimes
- Segregated schools/neighborhoods
- Housing discrimination
- Underfunded schools
- Disparities in healthcare and treatment
- Confederate status, building, and symbols
- Hiring discrimination
- “War on Drugs”
- Racial wealth gap
- Predatory lending practices
All the items on the above list are in direct violation of justice and righteousness for Blacks. So, you better believe we’ll continue to make our voices heard.
Regardless of Blacks’ status in America, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words will always be revered. And rightfully so. Still, it’s upsetting that fifty-three years after his death, these quotes remain so timely because America fails to fully achieve its ideals.
Despite the work that lies ahead, cause for hope exists.
As the graphics above show, Americans met the Civil Rights Movement with much disdain and dismissiveness (hm, kind of like BLM today).
In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most hated men in America during his life. He was named a national security threat by the FBI and a 1968 poll showed 75% of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of him. And yet every third Monday in January we celebrate a national holiday in his name. It goes to show that real change is not only possible, it’s inevitable.
So, after using MLK quotes to detail the sobering realities of our country, allow me to leave you with a quote that is a bit more uplifting…
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”