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COLUMN: Stop depoliticizing Martin Luther King Jr.

During Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the days after, many journalists, politicians and citizens remember his words and share them, whether it be through public speeches, articles, art or social media posts. While most of these sentiments are quite sincere, many are extremely hypocritical and lead to the whitewashing of King and his legacy.

For example, Fox News published an article entitled, “Please stop politicizing Martin Luther King Day. It's a day for national unity, not political division.” The ignorance in that headline is frankly astounding. The article goes on to express the author's distaste at the most recent issue of The New Yorker, which addressed King’s legacy through the Black Lives Matter movement and protests of today.

The New Yorker cover artist, Mark Ulriksen, said, “How would you feel if you had to show up at work every day and salute a country that treats black people like second-class citizens? I’m glad that Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett are making it political. I’m sure that if King were around today, he’d be disappointed at the slow pace of progress ... ”

Fox News writer Jeremy Hunt resents this statement, but Ulriksen's words are grounded in the historical precedent of King’s legacy. Instead of examining all of his speeches and actions during the civil rights movement,  Hunt picks very specific quotes from King to use in his piece. For example, he uses the quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Hunt blatantly ignores all of King’s quotes about direct political action and activism that certainly still apply to the modern protests and movements taking place. 

For example, in the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King says, “You deplore the demonstrations taking place . . . but your statement fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with the effects and does not grapple with the underlying causes.”

Furthermore, King says in the same letter, “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate ... who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”

Depoliticizing King is absolutely impossible and unfounded in history. The government resented him, and he went to jail. He gravely disapproved of the white moderates that, to this day, call for “depoliticization” and peace when they have no idea themselves of the mistreatment black citizens face to this very day. 

Therefore, during the week following MLK day, his words should be remembered and valued for their power in civil rights activism rather than twisted to fit an agenda he would have never supported.

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