As a nation, we have a tendency to sentimentalize cultural icons in death in a way that renders them non-threatening, antiseptic and easily digested by a society with an acute intolerance for anything controversial, politically incorrect or marred by imperfection.
This revisionist history has proven to be a far more effective means of neutralizing radicals such as Martin Luther King Jr. than anything the NSA, CIA or FBI could dream up.
This was a man who went to jail over racial segregation laws, encouraged young children to face down police dogs and water hoses, and who urged people to turn their anger loose on the government through civil disobedience. King called for Americans to rise up against a government that was not only treating blacks unfairly but was also killing innocent civilians, impoverishing millions, and prioritizing the profits of war over human rights and dignity.
King actually insisted that people have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
This is not a message that the government wants us to heed.
No, the government wants us distracted, divided, warring against each other and helpless to free ourselves from a lifetime of bondage and servitude to the powers-that-be.
In life, King was fiery, passionate, single-minded in his pursuit of justice, unwilling to remain silent in the face of wrongdoing, and unafraid of offending those who might disagree with him.
In death, King has been reduced to a lifeless face on a stone monument: mute, immobile and powerless to do anything about the injustices that continue to plague the nation.
America hasn’t learned a thing.
The “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” that King railed so passionately against have yet to be conquered.
In fact, the evils of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism have got us in a death grip.
America is still waging endless wars abroad, prioritizing profit margins over principle, and adopting institutionalized racist policies that result in a disproportionate number of people of color being stopped, searched, raided, arrested, thrown in jail, and shot and killed by government agents.
Fifty years later, we have compounded the evils of racism, materialism and militarism with ignorance, intolerance and fear.
Callousness, cruelty, meanness, immorality, ignorance, hatred, intolerance and injustice have become hallmarks of our modern age, magnified by an echo chamber of nasty tweets, government-sanctioned brutality, and “the politics of exclusion.”
“We the people” have become “we the police state.”
By failing to actively take a stand for good, we have become agents of evil.