OPINION: Toxic positivity has changed the narrative of MLK’s fight for justice


Bella Watson

“While he was nonviolent, King was a combative, passionate activist who fought for equality until his last breath.” Photo courtesy of Time magazine.

In elementary school, we were taught a lesson about a brave Black man who, despite all difficulties, fought a war with only his words. Teachers educated us on his scintillating speeches that captivated and brought peace to a divided nation charged with hate.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose importance and magnitude is far beyond what we were taught, did believe in initiating the fight for justice through peaceful protests, but he was also a righteous man who understood the hankering for violence that many people fighting for justice felt.

The mutilation of King’s story was not accidental. It was a loaded tactic used to diminish the resentful feelings of those being oppressed in the United States, and has become a way to downplay tactics used by the Black Lives Matter movement.

This narrative, known as toxic positivity, is meant to invalidate movements that use stratagems that demand attention and tarnish the name of modern civil rights movements and leaders.

While he was nonviolent, King was a combative, passionate activist who fought for equality until his last breath. He understood the severity of the issues happening in America, and sympathized with those whose patience was not as impenetrable as his own.

“In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard,” King said in a 1967 speech. “And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

When King was alive, he was one of the most abhorred men in America. This is not to say that he was wrong in his actions, or that his notions were by any means radical, but King was not opposed to conflicts with the law. In his short lifetime, he was arrested on 29 separate occasions. Many of these charges would be considered obsolete today, but still prove that King did not fear having run-ins with the law.

The false narrative that King was a nonreactive man who fought a war only through amicable methods has become a ploy to silence BLM protests today. These protests almost always begin as nonviolent displays before being ignited by police. Protestors have been continuously told by white politicians that their actions would disgrace MLK. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

King encouraged a fight for justice in any way possible, and as said in his earlier 1967 quote, he fully understood why protests turned into riots. The untrue narrative surrounding Rev. King’s name has transformed into toxic positivity — the action of dismissing someone’s emotions or hardships and meeting them with empty reassurances rather than change or empathy. These tactics are still used to criminalize current-day protests in the media.