Hate Cannot Drive Out Hate

Hate Cannot Drive Out Hate

Matthew Broder '22

On Monday, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday established in 1983 to honor the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But for many of us, this third Monday of January doesn’t mean much more than a day off school, which I think is a real shame. Martin Luther King Jr. was, to put it simply, a civil rights legend. He led the Civil Rights Movement and pioneered a uniquely American form of nonviolent resistance against a uniquely American system of segregation. It wasn’t passive resistance, a title which King said “gives the false impression that this is a do-nothing method.” It wasn’t pacifism, which King thought required too much faith in human goodness. And it wasn’t some form of political theater with the goal of evoking sympathy. It was active resistance, with a clear goal in mind: to send a message without raising a fist.

Today, people from both sides of the political spectrum claim that the other side is corrupting the legacy of Dr. King. Those on the right claim that modern civil rights organizations like Black Lives Matter ignore the essence of King’s message: unity. King focused on the idea that we are all Americans, all children of God, no matter if we’re black or white. They claim that these modern organizations focus more on what divides us, rather than what unites us. Those on the left, meanwhile, claim that King’s true message was radical equality, by any means necessary. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” they quote King as saying. And right now, they argue, the plight of the black American is unheard. The rioting and looting America has seen in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality are a perfectly logical culmination of the anger and hurt that have been repressed over the decades.

I’ve had the opportunity to spend much of this year working closely with King’s I Have a Dream, one of the greatest speeches in American history and King’s magnum opus. It paints a future where our nation has realized the importance of racial equality, where the black American is no longer “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination,” where “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” To me, it seems the civil rights movements of today overlook this. They strive for an America with a hyperawareness of what divides us rather than what unites us. King wouldn’t have argued that we’re all the same. But he wouldn’t have argued that we’re all that much different, either. There are differences between us, skin color being one of them, King would argue, but at the end of the day, we’re all Americans. We’re all in it together.

It’s an indisputable fact that black Americans have suffered and still continue to suffer in this country. Black men are 3.5 times more likely than white men to die at the hands of law enforcement. Despite making up only 13% of the US population, black Americans make up 33% of our prison population. Just 40% of black Americans own a home – a rate virtually unchanged since 1968. These are problems that we as a nation need to address. But the only way we can do that is together. Not as white Americans and black Americans, but as Americans, fighting for our brothers and sisters regardless of the color of their skin.

“The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people,” said King in I Have a Dream, “for many of our white brothers, as evidence by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny…that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”

Sometimes I wonder what Dr. King would think of our modern country. Would he see a changed nation that has made tremendous strides in the fight for racial equality? Or rather, would he see a broken nation, brother turned against brother, pitifully distracted from our true goals by petty arguments? I think he would see both. He would see a nation that has a long way to go, but one trying their best each and every day. He would see a nation that just wants to do the right thing but can’t decide on how to do it. He would see a nation that sometimes fails but never stops moving forward. He would see a nation with a few loud bad apples, yes, but mostly well-meaning folks who want to make their country a better place. We face many difficulties and obstacles in our way, but if anybody can do it, we can. Together.