The Myth of Dr. King’s Absolute Nonviolence
There is a story about Dr. King, apparently true, that during one of his Christian leadership conferences a man jumped out of the audience and started punching him repeatedly in the face. King just stood there. When King’s supporters tried to interfere, King told them to stay back. He was getting the absolute shit knocked out of him and he kept saying “‘Don’t touch him, don’t hurt him.’” It wasn’t until King was clearly in mortal peril that people finally intervened.
Now people love to cite this story as King’s absolutely Christian-bound commitment to non-violence. The takeaway message we get is that King championed non-violence ABOVE ALL ELSE because violence is anti-Christian. It gets equated with “turn the other cheek” from the Bible, in which no matter what violence is being brought unto you, you turn the other cheek because the worst sin is the sin of violence and everything else is kind of second tier.
That shit is great for White people. Do hundreds of years of violence, the most abhorrent kinds of systematic violence you can think of, but not have to deal with any fallout because the greatest good is not being violent. It’s a genius tautology. And the ability to credit it to King, because King did preach non-violence, makes it not only legitimate, it makes it downright fucking emancipatory.
Except it’s not what King preached. King preached non-violence IN THE FACE OF VIOLENCE, not non-violence as an absolute good.
This episode will look more at King’s doctrine of non-violence using The Umbrella Academy and with a reflection on how King couldn’t have imagined the Black Lives Matter protests in the first place.
Read the blog version: https://rhetoriclee.com/the-myth-of-dr-kings-absolute-nonviolence/
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Resources used in this episode:
- Don’t criticize Black Lives Matter for provoking violence. The civil rights movement did, too.
- King's Message of Nonviolence Has Been Distorted
- Martin Luther King Knew That There's Nothing Peaceful About Nonviolence If You're Doing It Right
- The Radical Paradox of Martin Luther King’s Devotion to Nonviolence
- Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]