Editor’s note: This editorial was among our most shared in 2018. Its message is equally relevant today:
Martin Luther King Jr. was not a well-liked man. He was one of the most polarizing figures in the United States during his final few years of life. He was not the cuddly creature we re-invent every King Day to lie to ourselves and our kids about how he only wanted us to get along. His approval rating began to rise only after he was no longer here to demand America live up to its ideals.
King wanted peace, but not at the expense of equality. He wanted little black girls and boys to play with little white girls and boys, but not if it meant pretending racism didn’t exist. He respected authority, but challenged those wearing badges and carrying batons and sitting in the Oval Office.
He wanted moral clarity, not cheap comfort. Were he alive today, he’d still be hated by those wedded to the status quo. Because he’d notice the poor still being vilified as lazy. He’d see large corporations, like Walmart, brag proudly about modest pay increases then quietly announce thousands of layoffs. The GOP would still have enacted a tax law skewed to the rich then pass work requirements for Medicaid benefits – something they have never required of wealthy Americans receiving government largesse. He’d know the government pays private collectors triple what they retrieve in back taxes from the low-income while high-income tax cheats skate.
And when he critiqued capitalism: “Again we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor – both black and white, both here and abroad.”
And when he demanded “a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”
And when he was exasperated by those telling him to wait: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
He wanted justice and peace. If he could have only one, there’s no doubt which he’d choose.