Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (1963).

He believed in nonviolent, direct-action programs with cooperation with whites in a full partnership, unlike Gandhi who loathed English civilization. He said there was an inescapable network of mutuality to achieve justice in our society.

King had Four Basic Steps to achieve Non-Violence

1. collect facts to see if there is an injustice

2. negotiation

3. self-purification (Gandhi: satyagraha)

4. He believed in direct action with sit-ins, marches, and economic boycotts in addressing a crisis in order to bring an injustice to a resolution by negotiation. Inherent in the technique is shaming, like Gandhi, by bringing in the media to magnify the nature of the struggle.

Groups, including churches, tend to be more immoral than individuals because the individual transgressor cannot hide from moral responsibility. That is why people seldom do evil alone. Discrimination with violence has largely been done by mob actions, particularly lynchings, in the frenzy of hate crimes.

Quote: "Justice too long delayed is justice denied." If people are in pain, then the body politic is diseased; hence, treatment must intervene to save the whole.

King said there is a "nobodiness" of being black in America that is psychologically traumatizing, necessarily inducing resentment toward whites. There are major problems of caste, class, and race in the United States that people do not mention publicly. They discuss them among their own tribes and clans, usually small gatherings of intimates where attitudes are shared for the sake of peace and social solidarity. People do not wish to assume personal responsibility for the fact that, if not overtly racist, they are racist de facto by keeping silent when prejudice manifests itself.

Scapegoating by stereotyping, creating false composite pictures of the other, is a lightning rod for personal frustrations, but in the long run it breaks down democracy by pitting the weak against the weak rather than uniting to solve common problems of the work environment in which you take on the power structure. It is easier to kick someone who is already down than to take on the real bullies. Oppressed people tend subtly to assimilate stereotypes into their self-identities, and such a demeaning process can damage self-esteem and the ability to lead a happy and stress-free life. So being on the outside feeds on itself in an ever widening cycle of despair: you are disenfranchised and disempowered because you do not have the means to attack a system and its values let alone its authorized representatives.

St. Augustine: "An unjust law is no law at all." King said there is a right to resist. An unjust law is a human law not rooted in the law of God—but what are the laws of God on race? Human indignation over racial slights is pitted against human laws to make new human laws like the civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. Again, simply saying we are God's children does not necessarily change political relationships based on who has the power.

If to change a law is not in your economic self-interest, these religious appeals will fall on deaf ears. In America, there has recently been a mixture of religion and politics, usually by accentuating differences, such as over abortion. Religion has had a history of dividing more than reconciling different groups. Look at the former Yugoslavia. Because of their ignorance, people see difference as threatening their interests rather than enriching their lives with new contacts. It is based on a Malthusian assumption of competition for scarce goods and services. This doctrine emerged as Social Darwinism and still enjoys widespread popularity. It is the doctrine of racism.

Segregation: The "I-it" relationship replaces the "I-thou" relationship. King takes this analogy from the Jewish theologian Martin Buber. Racial hatreds make the weaker party an object of contempt by falsifying the person's representation as less than human to the general populace. Jews had a bad press in the world during the 1930s and 40s. Now, they often own the means of communication and project a better image of themselves as philanthropists and educators, not the old portrayal as communists and bankers engaged in a world conspiracy to take over the world. The black male has been presented as an embodiment of criminality rather than a victim of historical circumstances, from which it is hard to liberate oneself without help from proactive civil rights workers. It is ironic that Jews once were in the forefront of the civil rights movement, but they have fallen out over the issue of Palestinians and economic control of neighborhoods.

The racial laws were unjust because the blacks had no part in making them since they were denied due process in registering to vote.

Quote: "One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty." This disobedience pays the highest respect to the spirit of the law, not just the substance, which can be false and iniquitous. A just law applies to all and thus is universal.

Dr. King takes issue with white moderates who have a mythical, paternalistic concept of time: the patronizing attitude that things will right themselves of their own accord. In the end, passivity only reinforces the status quo. In Hitler's Germany, the Jews were told to sit tight because there would be an army coup to overthrow Hitler if he became too aggressive. Hitler used that time of indifference to murder his political opponents and deport the Jews to Auschwitz.

There is a connection between the temporal world and politics, particularly if you want to be a survivor you must know when to act decisively, even violently. Hitler certainly is an argument for tyrannicide. Hannah Arendt says there are "enemies of mankind" who are a threat to humanity; hence, they must be killed as a moral imperative to guarantee the world's international security. Saddam Hussein exemplifies an "enemy" of mankind needed to be seized and tried for war crimes, conspiracy to commit war, and crimes against humanity.

King was caught between black appeasers, who argued for capitulation to the status quo, and the militant black nationalists of the Nation of Islam, who argued for separation. He realized that both, if carried to an extreme, would lead to racial suicide. The whites are the social environment; to survive, you must reach an accommodation with white moderates. Dr. King was for integration because he believed there was power in the diversity of numbers if in unity. He realized mainstream America is a middle-class, centrist coalition of voters.

He went for the majority rule of the centrists in order to attain power. He even convinced President Johnson of his being right. American citizens will buy a gradualist approach to social change, particularly if they are shown how it will lead to more economic prosperity.

Black labor built the initial capital formation of the nation for centuries. The compound interest to be paid in the economic and political dividends in substantive equality is now due. The Lockean and natural right to appropriate the fruits of your stolen labor is a moral imperative that should be part of America's agenda. But you need the power. The power can only come from numbers of people united in coalitions with a clear-cut program to change the power relationships if manifestly unjust.

There are many white Americans who cannot get the good life in this country because of discriminatory classist practices. Hence, there are many discontented groups who do not yet trust each other enough to build bridges of understanding. On the basis of class, caste, and gender discrimination, there is a basis to articulate grievances in a multicultural politics. How you frame the questions for the next century will determine whether the middle class, which is the backbone of American democracy, can survive in the near future.