It isn’t just on Martin Luther King Day that we watch it unfold. It happens with national race incidents. It happens in heated conversations. It happens in tweets and Facebook comments. If you are someone who regularly hosts dialogues on race, this has surely happened to you. Being MLK-ed:
“MLK would never condone those rioters.”
“MLK would tell all of us that we just need to seek peace and unity.”
“MLK said... [insert quote taken out of context].”
“MLK would promote racial healing—not your words of anger and division.”
People want to retreat to easy answers, feel-good quotations, and rely on MLK’s work instead of our own. This convenient tactic lacks authenticity and understanding. If we truly valued the life work of Martin Luther King Jr., we would stop trying to predict “what MLK would say now,” as if he lived a long life and died of old age.
Whatever wisdom we think MLK would bring to this moment seems to often discount that he was assassinated on a balcony, taken from his wife, his children, his friends. Why do we think MLK would say anything other than an indicting statement of fact: “You killed me.”
It’s so much easier to think of King's death as inevitable, as that of a martyr, a heroic end to a life of public service. We'd rather not consider the bullet that ripped through his face, entered his neck, and severed his spinal cord, causing a quick, bloody death on that concrete balcony. We like our pictures in black and white.
To feel what his wife felt; to feel what his children felt; to feel what his friends felt; to feel what his supporters felt is to invite pain over celebration, rage over rousing speeches, devastating ...1
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