Martin Luther King Jr. and Race Relations

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
–Martin Luther King Jr. (Thanks to Jane Stroud for the quote.)


Another MLK Day has come and gone with its many tributes, remembrances, and judicious appeals for racial harmony. It’s a unique holiday, more born out of social justice issues rather than a cultural or religious celebration or a sense of national tragedy. So, the true meaning of the holiday can seem ambiguous and even simplistic.

Most people ultimately know very little of what MLK stood for and what he preached. His prescriptions for the social ills of the day, most of which we still face, never seem to find their way into the discussion of his life or trials. And too often, people’s sense of what MLK believed derive from a single speech of his, the “I Have A Dream” speech, and especially the part imagining a day when children will be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Profound words, yes, but widely misinterpreted.

MLK’s dream of that ideal future was never meant as a guide to present policy, yet social commentators and politicians love to use the “I Have A Dream” speech as the basis for meritocratic rhetoric, i.e. treat others as your equal, and social divisions will melt away. However, MLK never saw equality as the method, only the goal. Achieving that end (or any end in life) requires far more than acting as if it should properly become reality.

We still have a long way to go. And the fact that one of the great social and political philosophers of our time is reduced to soundbites and trivia on a day supposed to honor him only underscores that sad fact.

Copyright 2011 by Michael Marsters.
All rights reserved.


4 thoughts on “Martin Luther King Jr. and Race Relations

  1. This is a great post – thank you! I agree with you, we still have a long way to go to achieve social justice.

    I guess, although it’s a crying shame that MLK is at times reduced to soundbites, at least there is some level of awareness of the fact that change still needs to be made. It sounds like more people need to be aware of the life of MLK and what he represented and I, for one, am going to go read more about him following this post!

    Thanks xx


    1. Thank you, Chloe 🙂
      It’s something we do with history nowadays…it becomes a source of trivia questions…
      Ultimately, I believe the best way to pay tribute to our forbears is to make their ideas relevant to the people of today…


  2. You’re right, Michael. I hadn’t noticed that before. Every Martin Luther King day the same quotes are focused on from his speeches but what about the man himself. Not much is delved into regarding who he was and exactly what was his philosophy and ideals.

    Something else came to mind while reading this, we shouldn’t really look to the media or social commentators to enlighten us. If people are really interested in knowing this great man, they should educate themselves. Each individual must take responsibility for their knowledge or lack thereof.

    You raised some excellent points. Thank you for the insight.



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