Martin Luther King, Jr. – The Man, the Myth

February 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Recently, Professor Lewis Gordon gave yet another illuminating speech, this time on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some of the highlights below:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a good man – and yet he was arrested 20 times and was even at one point stabbed. When a good man gets punished by a system, it can only mean that the system’s laws are neither good nor just. Every unjust system must be taken on because as long as the humanity of people is not recognized by laws, then anything goes against those people. And that’s exactly what Dr. King did: through disobedience he raised the issue of unjust laws. This is what makes him a revolutionary, a warrior.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That is the true legacy of Dr. King. But what we are served today is the watered down version of Dr. King sitting back, being moralistic and placid, while heading a “non-violent” Civil Rights Movement. Yet the Civil Rights Movement was far from “non-violent” or “pacifist”. There was violence; only that this violence did not come from the agents of the Civil Rights Movement. All the Movement did was to bring the violence already existing in American society to the forefront. In so doing, the movement raised the uncomfortable truth about society: there is no violence if black people are being killed. There is violence only when white people get harmed.

The problem with how we remember Dr. King today is that we focus on him instead of the ideas he represents. In so doing, we transform him into a messianic figure. And the problem with messianic figures is that they create people who are politically lazy, people who are looking for someone to “save” them. In such figures we look for gods but always end up disappointed when we get politicians and human beings with flaws.

Yet, no single human being can fix our society for us: it is our collective responsibility to make our society and institutions better. By ourselves, we are vulnerable; but collectively we can achieve a lot. We must begin to set the foundation for our future through actions connected to those of everyone else across the globe. We also need courage because people can stop you from doing things if they make you afraid. And always remember that although the struggle isn’t over, the struggle we have fought was well worth fighting!

Incidentally, some of my favorite quotes by Dr. King:

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Listen to the full speech by Prof. Gordon below.


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