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A Burden Of Lies: The Misrepresentation of MLK

Originally published on January 19th, 2016.

On Sunday night, I made a prediction that on MLK day my newsfeed would be full of “feel good” MLK quotes and painfully silent to the current issues affecting the black community the day after. Naturally, I was right. My newsfeed was alive with King quotes. Or was it? There were plenty of quotes about choosing love over hate, which follows King’s philosophy but, I was curious to see how accurate those quotes were. I set out Googling the quote I saw the most, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”. What I found was interesting. The quote in question is a cherry picked sound bite from his 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?”. Those two lines aren’t even sentences or part of the same sentence. The full quote is as follows (with the sections of the aforementioned quote bolded):

“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I've seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”

The cherry picked quote conveniently ignores that King was speaking about a specific kind of love. A love that is strong and demanding, which links back to the point he was making at the beginning of his speech when discussing love and power:

“Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best, power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”

He wasn’t speaking about some magically warm and cozy love where we all take hands and skip merrily down the street. He was speaking, as he often did, about love that got its hands dirty and changed the world. A love that demanded justice for every human that walked this earth. Even if that demanding love brought you discomfort because he knew that in discomfort we create change.

As MLK day fades into the Facebook memory banks of cherry picked quotes and feel good posts that sanitize the man’s legacy, stop and think about the love you put into the world. Is it really a love demanding of justice, are you actively working to end racism, homophobia/transphobia, sexism (for ALL women), classism, and every other fucking -ism and -phobia out there? Or are you absentmindedly sharing more noise without thinking further about the actual context of the words spoken and continuing to remain silent about the oppression of others all while happily patting yourself on the back for being a “good” person? ​

Copyright(c) 2016 Rayven Holmes

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