Apparently, the latest trend in mass media is to invoke the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. anytime issues of race present themselves in a manner that forces non-minorities to concoct some type of response that makes them seem in touch with controversial assessments of contemporary America, while at the same time, remaining critical of the oppressed. This game of conversational hopscotch eventually ends up with the commentator taking the most condescending tone possible - without exposing his inner bigotry - and soliciting his erroneous and ill-conceived interpretation of one of the most revolutionary figures in American history that sounds something like, "What would Martin Luther King think?", or "King would never stand for disrespecting the America". Such a blatant misrepresentation of the man, his values, and his message only leads me to one possible assessment: They have no clue who Martin Luther King, Jr. actually was.
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
Here's the thing, I'm quite sure they have some big-picture conceptualization of King that is a derivative of their two-week-per-year experience of "Black History Month" in their formal education that may, or may not, have provided them with a surface understanding of his promotion of non-violence to achieve equality. They may know the soundbites, might have been forced to read the "Dream" speech, hell, they may have even seen footage of his marches on Selma, and on Washington. However, this superficial evaluation of the man has evolved into a misconception that his advocation for "peace" somehow equates to "passivity", and it is this assessment of his vision that leads commentators to float poorly formulated appraisals of reality in three vital ways.
First, their misconceptualization of King, the man, drastically skews both his diagnosis of society during his life and his prescription to remedy the nation of its ails. Yes, King promoted non-violence through peaceful protests; however, King was no pansy. He was strategic, thoughtful, and resourceful, but what made King most effective, and affective, was that King was an agitator. Protest were designed to ruffle feathers, to make people uncomfortable, and to bring the darkest among us to the light. King was an instigator who targeted the loose cannons and pushed their buttons to the point to where they were forced to use force against protester, allowing King's non-violent platform to highlight the irrationality and inhumanity in the oppressors. Preaching peace was his poison; "love thy neighbor" was a strategy, not a display of docility. Non-violence was not submission, non-violence was a counterpunch.
"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
Misrepresentations of King's strategy also overshadowed why King, and the non-violence movement, was effective. Martin Luther King didn't win a Nobel Peace Prize because he promoted peace. He became the man he was because he promoted peace when there were readily available alternatives. For every King, there was a Malcolm X. For every non-violent protest, there was a fairly equal amount demanding peace "by any means necessary". King did not become the poster boy of equality because of his peaceful approach, "peace" was simply far more palatable than the obvious alternative. The birth of televised media expedited the process, and optics became the focus. People didn't, all of a sudden, have a change of heart - the South did not shed its racist skin and emerge a socially and racially accepting butterfly. Politicians simply couldn't fathom explaining bloodshed on the streets, and the alternative - revolt - would have ensured that would be the outcome.
"The question is not IF we will be extremists, but WHAT KIND of extremists we will be."
Which brings me to my third point. A blanket misunderstanding of King leads to a misunderstanding of why his approach - despite all of your criticism - is important today. When police officers in Dallas you were getting picked off from a parking garage, you begged for peace. We all did. When riots in Baltimore and Missouri broke out, you pleaded with Black America to "follow the lead of King". The latest evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement spawned from the actions of a sports entertainer refusing to acknowledge the flag of a nation who - despite all of King's efforts more than half a century ago - continues to disenfranchise and discriminate against people of color. His protest was not violent. He could have easily promoted more contentious actions that took place in Baltimore and Ferguson. He could have advocated for violence in the streets, burning down CVS buildings, or taking action against police. Instead, he chose a silent protest to relay his message. He chose non-threatening, silent means to reach millions, and the movement spread because - obviously - people agree with his sentiment. He chose to sit. He didn't ask for the media attention, but the media sought out his opinion. He used that opportunity and his platform to speak on injustice in an eloquent and powerful fashion. He chose the peaceful route when alternatives were readily available.
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Don't take this peaceful protest for granted, after all, it is what you asked for... isn't it? I mean, there are alternatives. Nevertheless, how do you choose to respond? By asking him "What would King think"? Had Martin not been taken from us prematurely, he would have encouraged protests of this nature. King would have likely - at 86 years of age - been on the frontline of peaceful protests in an effort to address the very issues Kaepernick and every athlete brings to the forefront each time he kneels for the national anthem. What would Martin Luther King think? He would probably said, "Job well done, son".