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January 15, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr. – A Creative Extremist

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birmingham Mugshot

The Reality of Nonviolence

Today, I encourage everyone to read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham, Alabama jail in 1963. In it, MLK, Jr. discusses the idea of “creative extremism.” (Read it here.)

Most people I encounter who laud nonviolent action miscomprehend its realities. The picture is one of peaceful protests. A picture in which authorities do their job to keep participants safe. A picture where there is harmony and unity and the will of the people gets heard. A picture with very few consequences for those involved.

Here’s the truth about nonviolence that none of those people want to face. To take part in a nonviolent action is to put yourself in harm’s way in order to reveal the truth. It comes with understanding that you may end up a martyr.

It is an active choice that, when punches get thrown and batons start flying, you do not retaliate. You allow the dogs to bite. You allow cigarettes to burn when they are put out on your skin. You allow the high pressure water hoses to mow you down. You do this for the sake of opening people’s eyes. And then, you do it again.

Nonviolence in the Internet Age

In an age of the internet, when people love to gaslight themselves, this starts to look a little different. For me, I get warning messages that folks are getting tired of me. Tired of how I speak up about racism in the Queer community. Tired of how I “insist” that people honor pronouns beyond he and she. Folks are getting angry with me, I know. They think that I don’t have to take things to, “such an extreme.” To that, I say, “Good. That means folks are listening.” I’m willing to put whatever social capital I have on the line for that to happen.

I’ll use Colin Kaepernick as a modern example. Is he leading marches against SWAT teams? No. But, even when his career was on the line for kneeling in protest, he kept doing the work. When he lost his job, he didn’t hang his head in shame. He kept doing the work. He inspired players all over the NFL to take a knee in protest.

The Work Isn’t Over

As as it concerns the LGBTQ+ community, after marriage equality passed, it seems most folks got off the bus. That there was no longer a need to do the work. That, after fighting for so long, retirement was due. An attitude that feels like, “Well, I got what I needed. See you all at the spa?” Sorry, folks. But, nah.

We don’t live in a post-racial, post-sexuality, post-misogyny, post-gender world. We’re half a month into 2018 and a glance at headlines about the current Administration can tell you that’s a lie.

The legacy of MLK, Jr. is one of extremes. America didn’t want to look at issues affecting Black and other POC citizens. So, Black and Brown Americans (and some White allies) offered up their bodies for injustice to be plain. They subjected themselves to tear gas, violent police and jail time.

Safe Space is a Fight

Unless this is how far you are willing to take it, you cannot call yourself an ally for the cause. Unless you are willing for people to become “tired of you,” am I safe around you? Feeling safe in a space is not just about being comfortable enough to be yourself. It’s about knowing that, if it came down to fighting for it, I can trust you to have my back. Feeling safe is about listening. It’s about campaigning for change, even when it needs to happen inside the house. Sometimes, it’s doing something that may be painful to root out injustice.

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? […] Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
– MLK, Jr.

What do you think?