“I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world.”
One might believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born with an innate ability to love against evil. But I’d argue it was a learned strategy curated through critical thinking, planning, and praying. Aside from King’s faith and leadership, one of the most inspirational parts about him was his mind.
In 1955, the same year Rosa Parks was arrested on that bus in Montgomery, King gave a Sunday sermon expressing, “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” Which is to say, conflicts quickly ensue in society when people employ their egos to think instead of their minds. The lack of our “willingness to engage in hard, solid thinking” is largely why this country so easily succumbs to rivaling as enemies, rather than evaluating our issues as fellow Americans.
“Solid-thinking” is why the Civil Rights Movement exercised the non-violent mission. The strategy not only aligned with King’s morals, but it made logical sense. It’s why demonstrations like the Freedom Rides, the lunch-counter sit-ins, the bus boycotts, and the city marches worked. And this effective operation changed America, and produced historical legislation like the Civil Rights Bill and Voting Rights Act.
Not only that, but King’s speeches such as “I’ve Been to The Mountaintop,” “The Other America,” and of course, “I Have a Dream” weren’t only legendary analyzes on racial hate, but studies of why racial hate is attractive to empty men and women. The absence of self-worth can make one capable of hate to feel important. This is why King’s famous quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only love can do that,” is not just a poetic sentiment but a practical method to deactivate immoral bombs. His compassion was never a passive waiver for evildoing; but instead, a bold stance to show its weapons would not work.
Like his friend James Baldwin, Dr. King never apologized for his criticisms of America, “We must not consider it unpatriotic to raise certain basic questions about our national character,” but remained a rebellious lover of the country. “I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world.”
That’s my hope in 2022, for our admiration of MLK to become actions and not social media platitudes. And maybe then, we’ll attain the ability to drive out some darkness by bringing our country into the light.