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Staff Editorial | Distortion of civil rights leaders and their messages

Lately, hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter were paired with the hashtag #ReclaimMLK to show the importance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message in his words, especially with the recent deaths of people of color by police. The latter caused a commotion on social media and in many cities, including Oakland with the Jan. 19 protest in front of Mayor Libby Schaaf’s home.

The Campanil notices the importance of the #ReclaimMLK hashtag and its relationship to the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and many people of color killed by police. At the same time, we see that the hashtag points out an observation about King and the distortion of his image over the years.

We have heard others use King’s ideas and image to promote various causes: i.e. abortion and even to promote fast food establishments. Even in a Jan. 19 article in Mic, his famous “I Have a Dream” was used to discredit affirmative action, a cause that King was in full support of during his life.

Importantly, King’s image and message have been used to promote peace instead of war and hate, to alleviate protesters on the streets and to claim the existence of a post-racial society. There have been many to claim that King “did not fight for this,” when in actuality, the roots of his assassination had racist premises.

The Campanil holds an awareness of these distortions. We are aware of the many others whose images have been distorted, such as Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. Each of these figures have been used to promote peace, martyrdom and even hatred against White people, respectively. However, these people were fighting against racism and segregation to affect not only their lives, but also the lives of many Black people.

We also acknowledge the correlation between King’s image and the idea of “respectability politics.” According to an article in Dissent, the term is described as “a philosophy promulgated by black elites to ‘uplift the race’ by correcting the ‘bad’ traits of the black poor”.

This philosophy builds an unfavorable association with the civil rights movement, misconstruing the work of those active in the movement and making it appear as if people of color are to “rise up” and ignore and move forward from racism. However, The Campanil acknowledges “respectability politics” and its falsity in society. We are aware of the current racism and disparities against people of color, and that it cannot be ignored with tactics like “respectability politics.”

We recognize that this distortion also originates from revisionist history, attempting to portray these leaders and figures in a negative light. The Campanil notices the effects of these leaders and people being depicted in this light, especially in elementary and middle schools and its textbooks.

As editors and journalists, we know the importance of recording facts with honesty and fairness, especially in The Campanil. We are also aware of the importance of this discussion and the overall necessity of the #ReclaimMLK hashtag, that it is an attempt to correct an image that still holds importance today.