How White People Corrupt Martin Luther King’s Message

How White People Corrupt Martin Luther King’s Message April 30, 2015


Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer made a huge mistake in reporting on the events in Baltimore. And it is a mistake that many white people make when discussing violent protests, but especially black violent protests.

I’m guilty of making the same mistake. That mistake is corrupting Martin Luther King’s message of nonviolence.

Blitzer interviewed Deray McKesson, an educator and community activist. McKesson began the interview talking about his hopes for a peaceful protest, but apparently Blitzer didn’t believe him. Blitzer pushed McKesson to condemn the violent protests and then Blitzer made the mistake:

…I just want to hear you say that there should be peaceful protests, not violent protests, in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King.

I love Martin Luther King. I wrote my master’s thesis on his approach to nonviolence. King is the greatest prophet in the history of the United States. And white people should know him better.

Blitzer, like so many white people, doesn’t know Martin Luther King. He misses King’s point. If white people want to reference King, we need to stop using him to condemn black violence. We need to stop pitting a black man against black people. It’s patriarchal. It’s demeaning. And it misses the point.

If white people want to quote King, then we need to quote King’s prophetic voice against systematic oppression that leads to black poverty, poor education, mass incarceration, horrendous housing, high unemployment, lack of health care, and barriers to the right to vote.

White people need to stop using Martin Luther King to condemn black violence. Instead, we need to use Martin Luther King to condemn our own violence.

When white people condemn black violence, we participate in America’s long history of scapegoating black people. We think black people are the problem, when in fact, we have built a violent system of oppression that leads to our benefit. From the beginning, white people have gained privilege by relegating black people to the margins. Sure, we did away with slavery 150 years ago, but the Civil War did nothing to end racism and racist policy that still infect our political, economic, and judicial systems.

Blitzer’s mistake was to use the protests as an opportunity to blame those who suffer from racial injustice. What he should have done, and what all white people should do, is use this opportunity to confront our own participation in systems of injustice.

But Blitzer won’t do that and neither will most white people. Why? Because we benefit from racism so much that we deny it even exists. We use empty phrases like, “I don’t see color.”

Yes, we do see color. And as long as black people stay in the inner city where they continue to suffer from political and economic systems that are stacked against them, we’ll be happy. Why? Because if they suffer from injustice, it means we won’t have to.

White America loves to quote King when it comes to nonviolence, especially when we critique black violence. But white America rarely quotes King when it comes to justice.

For the most part, white liberals and conservatives will continue to avoid the real problems of racial injustice by blaming black violent protests. But as Dr. Martin Luther King taught us, the problem is the violent systems of oppression that continue to infect this country and treat black people as less than human.

If white people really want to be part of the solution, then we need to stop condemning black violence. We need to condemn our own blind participation in systems of injustice. We need to open our eyes. And the best way to open our eyes is to join our black sisters and brothers in working for justice.

Because as Martin Luther King said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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  • Lots of Black People live in the country, though mainly in the south.

    I might say, as a white man though who grew up during the sixties, and who worked side by side with Black people in factories, that MLK Jr. should be held up as a role model to Blacks. Not to pit Blacks against a Black man, but to show what can be accomplished with the the right methods.

    Yes there is still racial injustice, but MLK Jr.’s approach to change is more more likely to win over whites than rioting The media focuses on rioting rather than on the incident that sparked the riots and thus the real issue is lost. Police that participate in actions that result in death need to face justice. But the media is driven by sensationalism, so riots become the lead story. That affects public opinion in a way that is unhelpful.

    Rioting just drives the wedge between the two races in a little further. It also hides the real issue from the public eye, as The only justice to be gained from rioting will come in the form of more oppression.

    • This video would show that there is a double standard when it comes to riots along with every other double standard in media coverage –

      • You do realize that the video starts by saying it is a satire right?

        • Yes. That is the point. I hope you watched the end which details it all out.

  • True Faith

    May the soul of Martin Luther King, Jr rest in peace. He tried his best, but unfortunately, he did not carry the right and effective message to black people.
    The message is that in order for black people, as we are called today, to be respected, empowered and prosperous, materially and spiritually, in this life, is that we have to, first and foremost, cease and desist from worshipping and serving unholy and evil things, such as, begotten son, trinity, cross, idols, graven images, statues, holy Mary mother of god, vodhoo, santeria, obeah, withchcraft, yoruba, and all such evil and unholy fetishes.
    Because such unholy and evil things automatically bring upon us, consciously or unconsciously, evil and unholy consequences,such as, hatred among us and being hated by others, disrespect among us and being disrespected by others, killing each other and being killed by others, lynching, discrimination, wrongful arrests, wrongful sentencing, and wrongful imprisonment, denial and delay of justice, same-sex sexual cohabitation, personal and national disasters, lack of Godly guidance, demotivation of educational achievements, and the list of evil and unholy consequences goes on and on in many ways beyond our knowledge.
    Instead, the solution to our problems, is that it is our duty and obligation to first and foremost, return to Almighty God in this life, surrender and submit ourselves to Almighty God, worship and serve Almighty God only, do good works to our fellow man, and believe in the Last Day.

  • True Faith

    Then and only then, we can enjoy respect, peace and beneficial empowerment in this life. If we continue to disobey this God-given solution to our problems, then we must not complain nor protest when adversities befall us, because we have brought them on ourselves. Peace

  • DH

    “Because if they suffer from injustice, it means we won’t have to.”

    What kind of sick, twisted logic is that??? The welfare state and the elimination of the fathers in the black community are the primary reasons for the disintegration of the black family. The state becomes father and family. How in the world does that relate to “Because if they suffer from injustice, it means we won’t have to.”? This comment is part of the blame-shift, and that helps no one. Pitiful. Typical. Way to shut down any honest discussion of the root problems and solutions. Tiresome.

    • Dan Tootle

      Why the welfare state in the first place? This is not something that marginalized minority populations asked for, so the fact of the welfare state comes from another source. And then, how does the existence of the welfare state equate to the basis for the disintegration of the black family? There are stark facts that identify the underlying bases of why things are like the way they are in our inner cities. Not the least of these being real barriers to employment and economic opportunity that have been in the face of marginalized minority populations almost continuously since slavery was abolished in the U.S. in name but not in reality, and has continued to this day.
      In MLK Jr’s speech in Memphis, Tennessee just before he was assassinated he said about himself, “Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
      Of all of the references that are made today to the many things said and done by Rev. King, that reference to the what the prophet Amos said so many years ago about “justice” and “righteousness” still today goes right to the heart of the matter of endemic and persistent poverty, crime, drugs, broken families, police violence, and unemployment that plagues our society and our conversation with each other.
      Until we have justice for all in this land of liberty the dregs of racism, our social divisiveness, and grasping privilege at the expense of others will continue, and those who are forced and expected to do without (justice and equal opportunity) will act out from their frustration and exclusion. If we want to continue to have riots and their impacts on our cities, we can make that happen through our indifference and preservation of privilege without working together to bring justice where it is so woefully absent today.

    • Actually the logic is not twisted. The “welfare state” is not to blame, unless by that you mean the 1% who reap the most from the welfare state by draining the most from the public treasury into their own pockets. The corporate overlords must have a social underclass bearing the main brunt of the injustice for the very logical purpose of having them as the underclass to blame for your ills so that you don’t see the 1% as the real perpetrators of your ills. As long as you can condemn the “welfare queens” and other recipients of the ort that falls from the tables of the 1% then you can be smugly satisfied with the delusion that you have deserve every penny you have earned by playing your role as an economic serf of the upper crust. Your vague and mystical belief in an “American heritage” of bootstraps Calvinism is only the prisoner’s belief in the goodness of their wardens.

  • hisxmark

    White people corrupt the message of Martin Luther King? Certainly! So do black people. Protesting that black people are assumed automatically guilty, some fall into the belief that white people are automatically guilty. What you have here is people of all sorts pointing the finger of blame at everyone else. It would be comical if it were not so tragic.

    • Please give us the name of the social force that is to blame for the systemic injustice. My nomination is the corporate neo-feudalism where the jobs are shipped away to lands with cheap labor in order to line the pockets of the corporate overlords who have bought the politicians in Congress (of both parties) lock, stock, and barrel. So who do you nominate as the source and chief perpetrator of our USA system of injustice?

      • hisxmark

        Simple answer: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
        A society on capitalism is like a body on steroids. You do get results fast, but your gonads shrivel into uselessness, you go insane, become homicidally enraged, and then you die.

  • Asmondius

    ‘….. but especially black violent protests.’
    When was the last Oriental ‘violent protest’ in America?
    When was the last Hispanic ‘violent protest’ in America?
    When was the last East Asian ‘violent protest’ in America?
    When was the last white ‘violent protest’ in America?

    • The point is about the bias of the news media and the example of Blitzer as a representative of that bias. Did Blitzer report on the skin color of the people voluntarily cleaning up the streets the next morning? Did Blitzer report on the rioting of people with lighter skin colors? Why are “violent celebrations” with the same amount of property damage by light skinned university students after a championship game not reported with the same negativity toward the “violence”?

      • Asmondius

        I understand your concern, but the fact is that the media bias does not serve just one faction or another. Race sells in America.

        • Do you agree that there is no such thing as “race,” except as an arbitrary and artificial group designation sold to people for the purpose dividing and conquering the underclasses?

          • MehBot

            I dunno, maybe you should try looking up why African Americans need different heart medications than white people. Now, don’t mistake what I’m saying, there are genetic differences for that, but that is not to say anything about superiority or inferiority in any way, they’re just different, not better or worse, just different on a genetic level. The point is that race is not an artificial construct, but a natural construct of different “breeds” of human evolving in different environments. Again, I stress that neither race is genetically or biologically better or worse, just different and thus race is not an arbitrary and artificial group designation.

      • MehBot

        So a “violent celebration” and a “violent protest” are the same? Hmmm, I could’ve sworn that “violent celebrations” cease soon after the event that is being celebrated whereas “violent protests” may cause more and more civil unrest and riots until the demands of the protesters are adhered to, but we should totally treat them as the same thing.

  • This post raises so many important issues.

    First, and most importantly, when Blitzer said, “I just want to hear you say that there should be peaceful protests, not violent protests, in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King.” this was a mistake in basic journalism showing that he was not there as an observer but as an advocate for his own centrist political agenda. As a reporter, Blitzer is not there to tell people what they should or should not be saying. Essentially, Blitzer reveals over and over again that he is far from being a genuine journalist.
    Second, I wholeheartedly agree that we should not cherry-pick MLK’s message to suit our own desire for namby-pamby protest that only ends up being ineffective. And I agree that Blitzer will never reflect on his own support of the systemic injustice that was the actual target of MLK’s protests. While MLK did not approve of senseless violence, MLK did most definitely support civil disobedience, which by its nature is perceived as violence by people like Blitzer who are unable to distinguish facts on the ground.
    Third, Blitzer’s comments revealed that he is incapable of genuine reporting about the difference between property damage and violence to persons like Freddy Gray. By treating the two as equal forms of “violence” Blitzer is just showing to whom his real allegiance lies: the corporate “Owners of America”. Nearly 80 years ago, H.P. Lovecraft described this perspective as among the “mendacious assumptions (such as the notion that real liberty is synonymous with the single detail of unrestricted economic license..).” While Blitzer “reports” about so-called “violence” against property, he ignores the obvious and condones what Lovecraft called the “artificial hardship for the non-materially-shrewd.” This is how the mainstream media takes sides in the war against decent human dignity.
    But, lastly, this post makes a mistake just as large and even more important than the mistakes that Blitzer makes by buying into the social fiction that there are actually people who can be called “white people” and “black people.” There are no such people except as a social fiction for a club they may belong to or root for as fans, such as saying there are “Baltimore Raven people” and there are “Detroit Lions people.” The artificial club called “white people” was created from thin air for the sole purpose of creating the group called “white people” and investing them with superiority and political supremacy. It is not beneficial in this day and age to accept the false belief that the club exists as a biological factor and continue to use the labels “white person” and “black person” as if everyone can be involuntarily put into one or the other club. If a person wants to voluntarily assert “I am a white person” then they are free to do so in the same way they can assert “I am a Coca Cola person.” But it is the height of racism to tell another person that they are a “white person” if they aren’t members of the “I am a white person” club. If you call me a “white person” then you are insulting me and calling me a racist because I don’t even believe in the concept of “white” as a racial or genetic determinant. There is no such thing as a “white race” so if you call people “white” without their permission, then you are assigning us to a color-coded caste system of your own making, Trying to keep people in some color-coded system of categories by calling them color-coded names to pigeon hole them into affiliations they do not believe in nor want in the name of “equality” is not real equality. Seeing people as “black or white” is putting people in two artificially simplistic categories and not seeing people for their real diversity of skin colors, shades, and tints.


      A most excellent post!

  • Sue Bonner

    Even before the situation in Ferguson, I started to believe that many of the racial issues in America happen because blacks and whites have different definitions of what racism is. Most whites think of racists as people like the Klu Klux Klan, Neo-Nazi’s, Aryan Nations, and their crazy uncle who sends them right wing e-mails and watches Fox News all day. In other words: someone other than themselves. Most blacks think of racism as a political, economic, and societal system that’s stacked against them. In order for Americans to face the real issue of racism we have to all be on the same page. White people need to acknowledge that the current system does work in their favor and then personally work toward treating black people more fairly. Black people need to understand that not all white people hate them. I know this easier said then done, but it needs to start somewhere.

  • Fakir Smith

    The message of King that we should stop blaming Whitie is what is important here. He made numerous speeches on the subject, but oh how we forget. I think it’s stupid to either expect or excuse black violence and that was MLKs ultimate point. What a shame such a leadership vacuum has opened up. What passes for black leaders today is appalling. Sharpton? Holder? Obama? When someone like a Cosby speaks truthfully they shut him down. When a white man tries to speak the truth he’s called a racist. Fact is as King said in 1961 and it’s still true today, blacks are 12% of the population and commit 51% of the crimes. He was speaking of St. Louis, but it’s universally true anywhere and for some honky cracker like the guy who wrote this article to stand up and shout whites privilege or excuse it is BS. Stop the white guilt. Right is right and wrong is wrong. You don’t excuse bad behavior or reward it. You fix it. Parenting 101. Something is morally wrong when a white man (or a black man for that matter) can’t go into certain parts of a city at midnight for fear of being shot. That isn’t a white or black problem. That is societal and it has nothing to do with privilege. You can be poor and have high morals. Plenty of people do. As for Baltimore or ferguson or any other modern day riot, if they (blacks) had joined arms and peacefully marched instead of furthering the stereotypes of blacks they would have sent a message around the world heard loud and clear. Instead we get things like pants up don’t loot. It’s disgusting to see a community lack the intelligence or morals to do the right thing rather than the white thing because ultimately that’s what the white owned media wanted. They can’t wait to feature young black men burning down a city on TV. Not only does it help ratings, but it furthers their agenda of dividing this nation. the black community is being used and whites are being used. This author has clearly fallen for this privilege BS. Bravo Adam. You are part of the problem and you don’t get it.