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.
Too often, non-violent struggle is equated with no violence, as if we can all just wish the injustice away and it will all be ok. Now, as I have stated before, I am not a pacifist, but what I think people most misinterpret about Dr. King, is that they take his messages and interpret his words and actions as encouraging passivity. Just like there are those who take the 14th amendment to play divide and conquer games between Latinos and Blacks (as if the two could not possibly exist in one person). We have seen King’s legacy as a church leader used to justify homophobia and transphobia.
What we need to see more of is an analysis and understanding that no matter what you label struggle, standing up against injustice leave open the mind, body and spirit to violence, from the state (i.e. Boder Patrol, I.C.E.) and from those who will use the “state” to justify their actions (i.e. Minutemen and Police in the University of Puerto Rico). Sometimes this violence is internalized and used against one another in indirect and direct ways.
Many people take today as just another day off from work, I hope that all take a little time to reflect on the fact that Dr. King was killed, demonstrating that non-violence does not mean that there will be no violence especially when truth is spoken to power.