The emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked many comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement. We can’t talk about the Civil Rights Movement without mentioning one name:
Martin Luther King, Jr.
As the face of the Civil Rights Movement, King preached nonviolence in an effort make progress in a historically violent country. His ability to gather people for a common cause is heralded by people to this day. King’s message of nonviolence still resonates in a time where civil unrest seems to be the norm. Ferguson. Baltimore. Milwaukee. Standing Rock. People are tired and they are angry. Proponents of nonviolent tactics often quote King or reference his possible disdain with today’s actions. Most of the time, these people are looking to discredit the current protests. However, they do so without a true understanding of context.
The Jim Crow era of America was ugly. The widespread belief that African-Americans were inferior was expressed in many different forms. Refusal of service in restaurants. The ability to obtain gainful employment. Having to give up front seats for white patrons on the bus. Not being able to vote. Being able to assault, or even kill, a black person without meaningful penalty under the law. Racism was upfront and in your face. This context is lost on those who currently oppose the Black Lives Matter movement. Let’s take it a bit further.
Martin Luther King, Jr. embodied the same characteristics of protestors today. He marched in the street. He confronted authority. He gathered with like-minded people who wanted change. He challenged the idea that black people cannot be equal in America. He called for peace and progress. To top it all off, he was met with the same resistance that Black Lives Matter protesters experience.
The thought occurred to me if you are against Black Lives Matter, then you would be the same person against the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. However, that’s short-sighted on my part. Just as short-sighted as the people who quote King but refuse to understand the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.
President Obama said it best in his farewell address.
“The effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s. That when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness. When they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment but the equal treatment that our Founders promised.”
- President Obama
Laws have been put in place to “ensure equality.” However, that does not mean the perception of African-Americans has changed. Blacks are still charged more harshly for the same crime as whites. Blacks are still denied 28 percent of the time for home loans as opposed to 10 percent for whites. There is more work to be done.
When we discuss Martin Luther King, Jr., we have to realize his contributions must be built upon. We didn’t reach the mountaintop of equality when blacks were granted the right to vote. In order to eradicate racism, we must understand racism. We must acknowledge our own biases. We have to strive for progress.
We have to change our hearts.
If you want to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., then don’t throw his name out as a means to discredit something you may not understand. Don’t quote his words out of context. Search for knowledge. Ask questions. Widen your perception.
That’s what Martin Luther King, Jr. asked you to do.