Hot Take on MLK

Martin Luther King Jr. cheated his way through college, relying on numerous and massive cases of plagiarism, to the point his doctoral thesis is utterly without value. When this was discovered, his university, his family and many others went to great lengths to try to cover this up. When that failed, they did everything they could in order to downplay it, to the point society at large doesn't know about it, and those who do usually don't know how significant it was.

During the Civil Rights Movement, King intentionally had youths engage in dangerous protests so pictures would be taken of children being assaulted, which he felt would generate better publicity than if it were adults who were assaulted. There is significant reason to question whether this tactic actually helped his cause. Many of King's contemporaries were adamantly opposed to King's practice of intentionally creating violence, especially when those who would get hurt were children.

There's much more that could be said, but my point isn't to say King was a terrible person. My point is this, King was not a great man. He's celebrated today not for the person he was. King is celebrated for a person he never was. Today we celebrate a figure created out of ignorance, self-delusion and outright lies.

Here's my hot take, we would not have this holiday if King had not been assassinated by a white man when he was. His death created a symbol of a black man people could use to signal their opposition to racism.

28 comments

  1. To be clear, I don't think I'd have liked King as a person, knowing what I know about him now, because I don't like lying, cheating frauds. I also think I'd have been one of the many people who said some of his tactics were incredibly immoral. I also think a number of the political ideas he wanted to campaign for were stupid. (I wonder how many people celebrating him today would label him a socialist and hurl insults at him if he were still alive.)

    That doesn't make me hate him though. I think he jeopardized the entire Civil Rights Movement and there were better people involved in it than him, but what bothers me about King isn't the man himself. He was a flawed man who tried to make the world a better place. I can respect that. What bothers me is the insanity that arose after King's death. A general whitewashing his flaws to make him seem more heroic would be bad enough to me, but people intentionally deceived the world and used thuggish tactics to promote this image of him as a hero. I don't like things like people being labeled racists just for saying they didn't think King deserved a government paid holiday, something only two people in the country's entire history had. Yet that's exactly what happened, to the point accusations of racism caused things like Arizona not getting to host the Super Bowl, something which would have brought millions of dollars to the state. To me, that's extortion.

    But the biggest example is King cheating his way through college. This cheating was so blatant it couldn't be covered up. But people tried. And even now, it is massively downplayed. Just look at how it is acknowledged in any fact checking site like Snopes. The severity of it is horribly downplayed, and there's no mention anywhere of how people tried to cover it up. Basically what gets said now is, "A university review board found text which was used without citation." There's no mention of how the university didn't find it themselves, of how it tried to resist acknowledging it when it was pointed out to them, how King's family went after the people who brought it to light, or anything like that.

    To be clear, King didn't just use text from sources without citation. He copied entire pages of text from another student's doctoral dissertation, a former student of his doctoral adviser. How his adviser didn't notice ~40% of King's dissertation was taken from that of a former student is a mystery nobody can solve, but there was a fascinatingly popular defense offered for King by his defenders. Many of King's defenders said he didn't know plagiarism was wrong because black Baptists routinely copied one another's sermons. That's right, King's plagiarism was excused by many people because, "He was black so he didn't know better."

  2. > There's much more that could be said, but my point isn't to say King was a terrible person. My point is this, King was not a great man.

    You're entitled to your opinion about whether he was a great man, Brandon. But you can't make that determination within a societal frame.

    King played a significant role in the attainment of civil rights by millions. He is looked up to for inspiration by millions. His speeches are used as examples of effective rhetoric all over the country. He faced mortal threat as a leader of a movement to overthrow an unjust status quo. His greatness, it lack thereof, is not something to be determined by your assertion, but by the larger reality. Again the confusion between opinion and fact.

    > He's celebrated today not for the person he was. King is celebrated for a person he never was.

    He's celebrated, to at least some extent, for the difference he made in society - your assessment of his integrity or strategic decisions notwithstanding.

    > Today we celebrate a figure created out of ignorance, self-delusion and outright lies.

    That's a ridiculous over-simplification.

    > Here's my hot take, we would not have this holiday if King had not been assassinated by a white man when he was.

    Also ridiculous. He was a renowned leader with tremendous influence before his death. Would, perhaps, his legacy have taken greater hits had he lived, and not died by assassination? Maybe - but he still would be honored as a tremendous leader.

    > His death created a symbol of a black man people could use to signal their opposition to racism.

    ? His existence created a symbol that people used to signal their opposition to racism before his assassination. His assassination was not the pivot point on which he became an anti-racism symbol. Your lack of knowledge of the civil rights movement is breathtaking.

  3. Joshua, it's always great to see your patent refusal to even attempt to understand points you disagree with, as well as your non-sequitur observations you pretend are responsive. For instance, you say I don't get to determine if MLK was a great man within a societal frame. So what? Society could decide Donald Trump is a great man. That has no bearing on my ability to point out Trump is actually a terrible person. You even have the audacity to say:

    His greatness, it lack thereof, is not something to be determined by your assertion, but by the larger reality. Again the confusion between opinion and fact.

    If society gets to determine whether or not something is true, it is impossible for it to be a fact. You claim I'm confusing opinion and fact because I have the audacity to state my opinion as true, rather than accept society's opinion as something I'm not allowed to challenge. It is a trivial truth if society is logically allowed to say, "MLK was a great man," then I am logically allowed ot say, "MLK was not a great man."

    By the way, I think it's wonderful to see you repeatedly say things like, "That's ridiculous." Especially when you fail to provide any explanation. You've complained many times about how horribly inapproriate it is for me to say, "That makes no sense" while explaining what was wrong with what people said. It's good to know, "That makes no sense" is beyond the pale to you but, "That's ridiculous" is perfectly reasonable. I'm sure there's some bright line you can draw between them, maybe drawn with the same crayons you use to justify making factual claims:

    ? His existence created a symbol that people used to signal their opposition to racism before his assassination. His assassination was not the pivot point on which he became an anti-racism symbol. Your lack of knowledge of the civil rights movement is breathtaking.

    Where you insist you know how much knowledge I have of a topic, without doing anything to attempt to ascertain what knowledge I possess. You don't even seem to understand basic sentences I write, yet you are absolutely confident in determining how much I do or do not know? Pretty funny coming from a person who claims others conflate opinion with fact.

    For the record, I never said King would not be celebrated for his accomplishments if not for his assassination. I said he wouldn't have a paid national holiday, something that was done for only two other people in the 200+ years this nation has existed. A person can still be celebrated for their accomplishments without that receiving distinction.

    Side note, claiming I'm wrong in saying MLK isn't celebrated for the man he was by saying he is celebrated for the things he achieved is a great example of irony. Or stupidity. I'm not sure which.

  4. Ok, some valid criticisms. You're right - the "that's ridiculous" comments are facile (I'm glad to see you're paying attention to that). Likewise, I can't assume your knowledge about the civil rights movement in general. But I can say that your conclusion "His death created a symbol of a black man people could use to signal their opposition to racism..." suggests (to me) ignorance of civil rights history, for the basic reason I stated.

  5. Oh, I should probably draw specific attention to one last thing just so it doesn't get lost. Joshua referred to my "assessment of [MLK'] integrity or strategic decisions" because I criticized, amongst other things, King's decision to recruit children to go to protests where he knew they would get assaulted because he hoped pictures of that happening would be good PR. There were other considerations, like the arrest of children not costing family money from lost worktime and the fact children were more pliable and easier to recruit. No decision like this is made for a single factor. However, King knew the children he recruited would get assaulted and be hurt. He knew this, and he did it anyway. I think that's terrible.

    But maybe people disagree. Maybe people think using children as fodder for violence to get good PR is okay. That's not the point I'm bringing up here. My point is much simpler. I condemned this action by MLK for being immoral, and Joshua refers to it only as me criticizing "strategic decisions." He couldn't even refer to what I condemned as he claimed my condemnation was ridiculous and improper. That's the very reason I made this post. People demand we celebrate King and his achievements while refusing to squarely face the record of what King actually did.

    People of King's time were willing to discuss his faults. He wasn't the unquestionable hero people make him out to be now. In this case, I think I'll side with Malcom X, a contemporary of King who was also a major influence in the Civil Rights Movement. He condemned this tactic of King's as immoral, saying, "Real men don't put their children on the firing line."

  6. > For the record, I never said King would not be celebrated for his accomplishments if not for his assassination. I said he wouldn't have a paid national holiday...

    For the record, you said (among other things):

    >His death created a symbol of a black man people could use to signal their opposition to racism.

    He was a symbol used to signal opposition to racism independent of his death. That symbol wasn't "created" by his death.

  7. > I condemned this action by MLK for being immoral, and Joshua refers to it only as me criticizing "strategic decisions."

    Perhaps "integrity" didn't show up on your screen? Or maybe you're going to parse the differences between morality and integrity?

    I always find it interesting when people switch online from a direct discussion with an interlocutor to referring to that person in a discussion with an imagined audience. What's up with that?

  8. > He couldn't even refer to what I condemned as he claimed my condemnation was ridiculous and improper. That's the very reason I made this post. People demand we celebrate King and his achievements while refusing to squarely face the record of what King actually did.

    Not only did you mischaracterize what I wrote in multiple ways, you then piled on top of that with some kind of post hoc paranoid justification for why you wrote the post. Too funny. I didn't "demand" anything. I have no problem with you writing a post about your beliefs about whether King was a great man. Reminds me of the self-victimizers who see themselves as the poor victims of the "politically correct." Lots of them on the right but they exist on the left also (a good example is Glenn Greenwald).

    Criticize King all you want, Brandon. No skin off my teeth. But when I see you write stuff I consider foolish I'm going to respond. I don't consider those one and the same.

  9. Joshua, you say:

    He was a symbol used to signal opposition to racism independent of his death. That symbol wasn't "created" by his death.

    Except the symbol King was while he was alive is not the same symbol he is now, a point I've made multiple times. It's the point of this post. Ignoring the point of my post to claim to rebut the point of the post is absurd.

    Perhaps "integrity" didn't show up on your screen? Or maybe you're going to parse the differences between morality and integrity?

    You said I assess King's "integrity [and] strategic decisions." That is not the "integrity of King's strategic decisions." I gave two examples of things King did that were bad. You referred to the first with "integrity" and the second with "strategic decisions."

    But even if that weren't true, you still referred to King intentionally recruiting children to get them hurt for PR purposes as "strategic decisions." That's like me criticizing a person for being a thief and you saying, "You may criticize his job profession..." Yes, technically robbing people can be a job, but there's no reason to refer to it as such other than to downplay the wrongness of the actions.

    You downplayed what King did, and when I called you out on it, you diverted the discussion by responding to a trivial point while failing to address the central point I made. Assuming that is because you didn't understand my point, I'd suggest you criticizing my ability to read was probably a bad idea.

    Not only did you mischaracterize what I wrote in multiple ways, you then piled on top of that with some kind of post hoc paranoid justification for why you wrote the post. Too funny. I didn't "demand" anything.

    Please, for the love of god, learn to read. There is no post hoc paranoid justification, and I didn't claim you demanded anything. This supposed post hoc justification is on the screen well above any of your comments. I said I don't like people being labeled racists just for thinking King didn't deserve his holiday, citing an example of how claims of racism were used to try to bully a state into recognizing the holiday, effectively attempting to extort the state with threats of the loss of millions of dollars.

    That example was used to draw attention to a certain sentiment I dislike, a sentiment I then referred back to in my response to you. Your claim it was all some post hoc paranoid justification is nonsense. Literally nothing you've said about me or what I've written accurately reflects me or the thoughts I had when I wrote my post/comments.

    Please stop assuming you know things you don't know. You keep insisting beliefs you have are fact even though they are often clearly wrong. It's hypocritical, and even worse, boring.

  10. So stepping back from the exchange with Joshua, I want to take a moment to point out nothing about this post is really that surprising, if one ignores the emotional aspect. Suppose I wrote this same post about Christopher Columbus. If I pointed out Columbus was a stupid and terrible person, with his holiday having absolutely nothing to do with celebrating the man he was, would anyone bat an eye? If I pointed out Columbus was given a holiday to purely to serve as a symbol people could look to for nationalistic pride, would anyone bat an eye?

    Columbus wasn't a great person, but he got a holiday because, through being the luckiest man to ever live, he made a major accomplishment. People who aren't great sometimes manage to do great things. Sometimes even bad people do. Columbus got a holiday not for the person he was, but because his accomplishment let him serve as a symbol of something. The same is true for King. That's why people celebrating the holiday typically don't care about King's many faults.

    There have been many great people. Why don't we see them getting holidays like King did? If your answer is what King helped accomplish, you're acknowledging it's not because of how good a person he was.

  11. Columbus Day originated as a celebration of Italian-American heritage in San Francisco in 1869.

    People appropriate symbols to support the myths they create about themselves. It's about emotion, not reason.

  12. Gary, agreed. In this case I think the reason for making King a symbol is to make people feel better about the historical racism of the country. "See, we're not bad people, we like King!" I'm sure there are some people who celebrate it because they genuinely believe King was a great man, but for the most part it just seems craven. I can't take the holiday seriously in light of the constant disregard for King's actual character, the thuggish tactics used to defend/promote him and the all but outright extortion used to pressure people into approving the holiday.

    It reminds me of all the times a token black man was elevated to a special status by people to say, "See? We're not racist."

  13. Brandon, I too think faux-support to divert guilt feelings has happened with some people. We're shallow creatures who don't know ourselves very well and will take an excuse in a second. But now, 50+ years on, the mythology has become more real than the man. That's okay with me as far as it goes for promoting racial accord when some are trying to use disharmony for their own purposes. I'll take a glass half full and look to fill it without being too fastidious. His personal failures outweigh and severely diminish his accomplishments, in your view. So hate the sin, but love the sinner.

  14. Gary, I think one problem I have with the holiday is some people think King truly was an amazing person despite his faults. I don't agree with that view, but if you think that's true, why not acknowledge and discuss those faults? Why not say, "This guy we admire was flawed, but that shows even flawed people can be great"? That could be a good lesson to teach. Then again, it might send the wrong message to youths to say, "You can cheat your entire way school and, as long as people like you enough, it's fine."

    I think none of this would bother me as much if King's family wasn't such a shady, thuggish group. For instance, I'd be more forgiving if they didn't aggressively pursue copyright claims against people for using King's material, even material he stole from other people. That's... just nuts.

    Also, I still can't help but feel Martin Luther King day is kind of racist. Are we supposed to believe King was really the best black man anyone could find for a holiday? King went through college blatantly cheating and submitting unexceptional work. Despite that, when attending predominantly white schools, he was repeatedly given great grades. He was patronized by white people because he was black. He was then chosen to be made into a mythological figure as a symbol to assuage guilt over racism... because he was, amongst other things, black.

    Every time I have to say, "Because he's black," I feel gross. This holiday makes me feel gross.

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