On this morning, the 25th anniversary of the King Holiday, I am watching the count of how many articles mention the name of the slain civil rights leader. Dr. King is known most well for leading non-violent acts of civil disobedience and delivering rousing speeches as a path in the struggle for justice, especially, although not just for, African American communities across the United States. The Clergyman, who would have celebrated a birthday on January 15th, is held up as an example of the “right” way to do struggle and yet over the past few days, reflecting on the moment we find ourselves in and what school children and adults are taught about the Rev. King, I wonder about the appropriation of his legacy and work to fit sanitized reform agendas.
I am thinking about the horrifying shooting in Arizona and how Dr. King’s message of non-violence will me used to justify a certain level of complacency and turning a blind eye to state violence. I am thinking of days in jail and young bodies against water hoses, batons, fists, dogs and guns. All too often, when the work of Dr. King is mentioned it is in the context of non-violence and peace as if those words equaled no violence. As if the struggles before him, the struggles contemporary to him, and the struggles after him have not cost lives, blood, freedom.