Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Was Frustrated with the White Moderate and Now I Get It

To say I now understand a little bit more why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was frustrated with the white moderate is an understatement. 

Watching the events that transpired at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021 simply because the president lost his reelection bid and then proceeded to lie to his cult followers about what actually happened, and then watching the conversations some white moderates were having both astounded and disgusted me. 

So many people sitting in their white bodies surrounded and protected by privilege calling for unity before even condemning white supremacy, before addressing the attack on our democracy, and before demanding accountability for their malicious and downright juvenile behavior. 

There is no real unity where the privileged majority call for peace but are not willing to take any actions towards bringing that peace to fruition. In the words of Dr. King, “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers,. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, I cannot agree with your methods of direction”; who paternalistically believes he [or she] can set the timetable for another man’s [or woman’s] freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”. (Excerpt from “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”). I, too, am disappointed with the white moderate.

With all of this being said, I am not the type of person that finds it necessary to deal in extremes. Oftentimes, the answer can be found somewhere in the middle. But it cannot be so all the time, not when it comes to matters of civil rights. It is one thing to throw a tantrum that took human lives (i.e. U.S. Capitol insurrection) and another thing to protest injustices that are taking human lives (i.e. police brutality, healthcare discrepancies) . Sometimes both sides do not have “very fine people”. Sometimes evil is just evil and it needs to be dealt with by facing issues with honesty and accountability.

For the past three or so years, I have been reading Dr. King’s letter to commemorate the day that has been dedicated to him. When I was dating my now husband, he joined me in reading and discussing this letter. Now, it has become something of tradition for us. Every time I read it, I find and gain new insight and I’m able to apply it to present day events and it propels me to continue in the work of addressing injustices where I am. I invite you to read his full letter here or listen to it on audio here, yes, even if you have read it in the past, and reflect on how it applies to what is happening in the world today. Then, learn a little more about Black history beyond the letter and Dr. King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.