MLK Was a Radical — and One We Still Need

Image via Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County

One of the biggest misconceptions of our time is how we think Martin Luther King Jr., or MLK, was only a peaceful civil rights activist. MLK challenged more than just racial oppression in the United States; he also challenged economic injustice.

MLK’s peaceful image has unfortunately been distorted to uphold our current broken system. Many say that by depicting MLK and his movement as solely peaceful, embracing, and the “right” way to protest, it promotes the idea of “toxic positivity,” or in other words, always looking on the bright side no matter what. However, this undermines people’s feelings when something negative does happen; we cannot expect people to brush off the fact that systematic racism actively works against them in their everyday lives. Promoting the peacefulness of MLK’s protests allows people to critique the “violence” of the Black Lives Matter protests happening today.

MLK also paved the way for economic justice as well, a radical idea in the face of a notoriously capitalist country. He held strikes with workers, spoke about the criminality of low wage jobs, and even called for an economic bill of rights. MLK was assassinated once he started to amp up his advocation for economic justice beliefs—and this was probably not a coincidence. Here is a quote from MLK about economic injustice that you were (probably) not shown in school:

“And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth.” From King’s last speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, delivered in 1967.

Some of you may be asking yourselves “Why is this article on a lifestyle tab?” It is because learning about a watered-down notion of MLK was a certain lifestyle that was chosen for us in our educational system. But now with more and more resources at our fingertips, we can choose our own lifestyle of learning, and discover what has been hidden from us all along.