Stop Weaponizing Dr. King Against Black Lives Matter Protestors
Many critiques of the protests fundamentally misunderstand — or worse, misrepresent — what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for
It seems like every time we as a nation come close to having real, radical, and structural transformation that is being led by people of color, the custodians of the status quo drag out a whitewashed version of Martin Luther King Jr. to critique the protests. They urge for politely contained demonstrations or “less angry” sounding slogans, an approach toward social change that King himself used to call taking “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”
In fact, the White House has repeatedly called on King’s legacy to dismiss the methods of protests that arose in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police officers. Last week, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany invoked King three times to claim that the protests do not “honor the legacy of George Floyd. It doesn’t further the cause.” But this backlash goes beyond calls for moderation — it’s weaponizing King against liberation movements that center the suffering of black people.
I come from the spiritual traditions that bring the love of God to the liberation of humanity. In recent years, I’ve had the honor of being asked to preach at King’s Ebenezer Church in Atlanta and speak at events commemorating his assassination. And in my keynote speech last year memorializing King’s legacy, I addressed a question that is especially significant in light of the recent protests: What would King have to say to today’s America? The answer, I fear, may be at odds with how some are currently invoking his name to suppress the Black Lives Matter protests.
Let us not be guilty of whitewashing King in these difficult days.
There are two major problems with this weaponizing of King’s legacy. First and foremost: Those who have had not a mumbling word to say about the conditions that led vulnerable people, primarily black folk, to protest have zero moral standing to tell others how they should carry out their protest. Congressman John Lewis has all the moral credibility to speak on this issue: He gave blood on the…