MLK Pt2: Prof Farley replies

farley-2This post about the good and bad that Martin Luther King did for African Americans became on the most commented on and most read items on this blog in 2008. The discussion started with this article by Professor Jonathan Farley. Jonathan then came onto the show to talk about it with you, and a year on he’s has now gone back to read all of your comments and respond them in great detail.

This is what he’s just emailed me. Whether you agree with him or not, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the considerable amount of time he’s taken responding to all of your points.


You may be interested in this from The Guardian website (they gave me the last word)

and this is from Harvard University’s student newspaper

Normally I do not respond to blog entries. But since the staff working on the show asked me specifically if I could, and that seems to be part of the format of this program, I will.

First, some general remarks: I concede that most of the comments posted so far are negative. But I also note that most of the comments come from Americans, and only one of the negative comments comes from someone who says she is a black American. I leave this for readers to ponder. I already know these ideas are unpopular in America, which is why the essay was published in Britain. I would be interested to hear the views of non-Americans.

Second, I find it interesting that the white Americans posting negative comments (any one of whom could have emailed me directly), despite being self-professed adherents to the doctrines of Martin Luther King, show absolutely no humility or self-consciousness at all when dressing down, in no uncertain terms, an actual African-American, just because the latter has different views than they about race and racism. It is almost as if they expect African-Americans to still obey their commands, 40 (or 140) years later.

Third, in my view, the individuals posting the negative comments by and large are, ironically, in total violation of Martin Luther King’s doctrine of non-violence. For King said we must refrain from “violence of the heart and tongue,” yet these individuals say I am an “idiot,” I don’t know history, I need to go to school, I’m a destroyer, uncivilized, someone who should be kept off the radio.

So we have a curious situation: segregationist Klansmen are to be treated with courtesy and respect even after they hit you (or your 11 year-old daughter) on the head with a brick, but invectives can be hurled at will against an African-American who simply writes a critical essay about Martin Luther King backed up with facts.

Fourth, right-wing racist groups in the United States are very internet savvy. When someone writes something they don’t like, it quickly gets posted to several websites and many people—in some cases scores or even hundreds—respond to what they often call “violations”.

Typically, they respond by posting ad hominem, almost libelous statements—very rarely do they attack the actual argument, but instead try to imply that the writer is mentally unstable, anti-white, dishonest or worse—although they will write the person directly as well, much nastier comments that are explicitly racist, and often threatening (one person sent me an email showing pictures of mutilated corpses, evidently murder victims, after I did this BBC interview), but of course their ace tactic is to write whomever they believe to be your “boss” in an attempt to damage your career. (In 2002, when I wrote an essay critical of the founder of the KKK in a local newspaper, the chairman of my department even told me the hate mail about me that he was receiving would be placed in my file.)

So the prevalence of negative comments should not be taken as a fair sample of public opinion about my essay.

To give an example of their tactics: in 2005 U.S. Senator Dick Durbin made a statement comparing Guantanamo Bay to a Soviet gulag. Despite the fact that Amnesty International had done the same thing, there was a massive campaign flooding Durbin’s office with thousands of emails, faxes, calls and letters. (I recall seeing an article saying there were 50,000 emails, but I cannot now find a source for that.)

One popular columnist called him a traitor (don’t forget, in America, treason carries the death penalty!); former Congressional leader Newt Gingrich called for Durbin to be officially censured. Within days, literally crying, Durbin apologized. (To see just one example of the campaign against Durbin, see the website http://www.blackfive.net/main/2005/06/just_got_back_f.html, “Durbin Falsely Demonizes His Own Country,” which gives telephone numbers and email addresses so people could send Durbin angry letters over his gulag remark.)

I doubt if the people who agreed with Amnesty International sent even 100 emails in support of Durbin. But it would clearly be wrong to read from this that Durbin or his statement was “controversial” (with the implication being that it was irrational or wrong).

I’m not saying most Americans would agree with me—I already know they don’t, black or white, which is why I submitted the essay to a British newspaper—but even if there were 100 negative comments and no positive ones that wouldn’t mean my views are beyond the pale. There is no African-American group whatsoever that responds in a similar way to so-called “violations”.

In other words, you could write that blacks have an IQ of 75 in a mainstream publication, say, and not get a single posting by an African-American contradicting this view, certainly not a hostile one. It would also be extremely naïve or dishonest for someone to suggest that the reason more African-Americans don’t say what I say is that my ideas are wrong: given the violent and fierce reaction from some of the commenters, it is more reasonable to suppose that African-Americans realize, consciously or subconsciously, how dangerous it is to say these things aloud.

Finally, and this cannot be stressed enough, the opposite of non-violence is not violence (not that any of the readers have any problem with violence: policemen carry batons—and guns, in America—and no sensible person would have it any other way, even though this too violates King’s doctrine).

John D. Anthony:
It’s unclear how John knows what I do or do not know. If anything, the record of King’s speeches suggests that he was the one who did not realize one cannot legislate morality. It is certainly false that “all King did was demand the right to be heard”. In fact, his stated goal was to transform the hearts of white Americans, which certainly did not happen, despite the change of the laws.

The distance black Americans have come may be due to many, many factors—SNCC, the Black Panthers, the Cold War…. I’m willing to accept that it may have all been due to King but that is far from clear.

Finally, it is unclear why, when I criticize King, I am “whining”—do I not have the right to criticize King? It is also unclear why I have to be willing to die(!). But, as it happens, I have received a few dozen death threats, and I still carry on writing. I am certainly risking my career and my livelihood by doing what I am doing. Is that good enough for John D. Anthony?

It is certainly false that “each side is and can be equally as racist”. No black person denies bank loans to whites. Blacks did not enslave Europeans en masse. There is no black Ku Klux Klan.

Once more, criticism is healthy: what is unhealthy is saying that criticism is mere “pointing fingers”.

Thank you for your well thought out analysis: “Farley’s an idiot”. Moreover, you clearly missed my point: the opposite of King’s idea of “non-violence” is not violence. Having said that, the idea that resistance is “suicide” was clearly proven false in the American revolution, in the Civil War, in World War II, in the Vietnam War…

Maria Alexander:
What is your evidence for the statement, “If it weren’t for Martin Luther King we’d be much worse off?” There were many actors and forces operating in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

I won’t comment on the delicious irony of Maria Alexander’s statement about “this idiot [presumably, me] you’re quoting who thinks you can change people’s minds just by telling them they’re wrong.”


Virginia in Portland, Oregon:“Martin Luther King, Jr. was an exceptional leader …. He was not wrong nor was the movement he led ‘flawed’ as Professor Farley would have it. To be sure nothing much has changed…”

It should be obvious that no comment is necessary.

There has not even been a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in America.

Mohammed Ali:“To say that Martin Luther King Jr. did not redeemeed (sic) the African Americans is an act of blamesphemy (sic) and deserve (sic) fullest condemnation. This Prof. Farley is a destroyer and does not deserve any place among civilize (sic) people.”

Blasphemy? Martin Luther King is a god? I am a destroyer for offering up an opinion about a man? I am uncivilized for criticizing policies and strategies many people disagreed with at the time, including the other guest on the radio program?

If you are a Muslim, the Prophet was not non-violent. If you like the boxer Muhammad Ali, he was not non-violent in the ring; he was non-violent when he said he wouldn’t fight the Viet Cong, and was assailed (and jailed) viciously for taking that non-violent stance—a non-violent stance I support entirely. Interesting reversal, huh?

Marsha Adams:
There are 40,000,000 African-Americans who would love to be judged as individuals.

I disagree with you about how much the government has done to pull down racist barriers! But I agree with you that African-Americans could do more to better their situation. I have my own theories about why immigrants do better, but that is for another discussion.

I agree!

The goals of the Civil Rights Movement were articulated in numerous speeches by King and his colleagues. Ending violence was not at the top of the list. And if that was the aim, a viewing of the Rodney King video can show you he failed there as well.

If “integration was the first step,” then we are taking a long time to make it, given the large number of decades-old desegregation suits that are still around. That “we are indebted heavily to Dr. King” is a statement to be proved. There were many actors and forces operating in the 1960’s. We may owe him a debt, but this hasn’t been proved. For example, a simple question is why there was motion on the congressional front to enact civil rights legislation once the cities started burning but not before.

It is not “ingratitude” to criticize someone who made mistakes: When I make mistakes, I welcome these being pointed out constructively. I am only being ungrateful if I in fact believe that I owe what freedoms I enjoy today to King. I do not believe this. And, as I said on the program, it may be easier for me to point out King’s mistakes because I have had 40 years to look back on them and see that some of the problems King himself pointed out are still problems today. It’s not necessarily because I am smarter than King.

I don’t see what any of this has to do with my being able to fix all problems in 5 years before I can utter one syllable of criticism. (Incidentally, King had 13 or 14 years.)

I cannot anyway, because as soon as you criticize King you get labeled a Mau Mau, making it hard for you to earn a living, much less solve other people’s problems.

I think your history is a little off. The Middle East question is a recent one.

It is a bit shocking that no one has responded to you, which says something disturbing about the people leaving comments on this site.

You write about the Civil Rights Movement degenerating into “the worst kind of force for leftism”. I don’t know what that means, but “worst” surely sounds like an exaggeration.

You also write that affirmative action is “every bit as racist as…Jim Crow”. Jim Crow involved murdering people for looking at whites the wrong way. You’re now disqualified.

Isabel from San Francisco:
Good question, fair point.

Josh in Portland:
Thank you for explaining the Civil Rights Movement to me. I had no understanding of it before.

But it’s unclear to me where I advocate segregation. I was writing about having the correct priorities and clearly articulating reasons for having certain objectives. But, as it happens, the idea that any path other than enthusiastic support for integration for its own sake “increases the violence of those like Nathan Bedford Forrest”—Forrest being the founder of the Ku Klux Klan—sounds preposterous (not to mention a classic case of blaming the victim). You may recall that it was the Klansmen who were bombing the integrationists, not the blacks (if there were any) who questioned integration!

Finally, communities in America are racially segregated, just not by law.

I submitted a version of the essay to a fairly left-wing black website, and the editor responded, “I do not like your article – and I’m former [Black Panther Party]. But even if I did like it, I wouldn’t sacrifice our magazine by printing it. But again, I don’t like it. Since we’re on deadline, there’s no time to explain my many objections. Sorry.”

I doubt the essay would have been published in any American newspaper (neither would any of my other Guardian essays, except the one on math).

Stafford Hemmer:
Judging from your Facebook page, I would have expected you to be a little more courteous and respectful of people with different views than you were on the radio program.

You seem to think that the point of black people’s existence is to serve as your “black friend”. Sorry, we’re not here to serve you.

Larry Moffett:
My first words on the program were how I opposed the erection of a statue of the founder of the Ku Klux Klan and got death threats. That makes me a “crank and provocateur”?

This reminds me of a joke I believe Malcolm X told. “What do you call a black man with a Ph.D.? A ni**er.”

Where did I show “utter ignorance”? Many, many contemporaries of King disagreed with his philosophy—as King himself said, “[I]t didn’t make sense to most of the people in the beginning.”

When your toaster oven explodes, you get “reparations” from the company. When Nazi Germany steals art, the descendants of the Germans have to return it to the descendants of the people they stole it from or their nearest relatives.

Here’s a simple test to see who is owed what: if you call yourself black.
James in LA:

Is there majority rule in South Africa? (This is not an exhortation to violence!! I just want to know who actually controls the government and the economy.)

Bryan in San Francisco:
It’s easy to dismiss someone as “wacky”. It’s much harder to demonstrate what is wrong with their ideas.
And it doesn’t matter whether a mathematician wrote the essay or an historian or a linguistics professor at MIT or a computer program. Once the ideas are out there, please respond to the ideas and the facts.

By the way, just go ahead and call me an “uppity ni**er”. It sounds as if you want to.

Stephanie Tam:
It was the Civil Rights Movement leaders who said desegregation was their aim, and pretty much their only aim until some of King’s very late speeches.

Many of the cases of white Americans wiping out Black neighborhoods en masse (like Tulsa) were because the black communities were getting too prosperous, so historically it did happen that black communities could thrive without integration.

And incidentally, we don’t get respect, even with desegregation.
But I didn’t say integration was bad. I said it should not in itself have been the goal. Having said that, since it was the primary goal, those who had integration as their goal clearly failed, did they not, given the degree of segregation that still exists in America?

Thank you VERY much for your comment. It is EXACTLY why I wrote the essay. I want everyone to read and re-read what Bruce has said.
In response to a listener comment, I said you clearly do not have to be black to be a champion for blacks, just consider the abolitionist John Brown, who was white.

I don’t think I even praised him on the program (although I do consider him to be a hero). Bruce is saying that it is immoral for me merely to mention John Brown, who tried to foment a slave insurrection in the 1850’s.

In other words, Bruce is saying that, even 140 years later, it is immoral even to suggest that slaves had the right to free themselves from slavery.

Incidentally, in America we celebrate Lincoln’s birthday. Abraham Lincoln waged a war that killed 600,000 people. Are Americans advocating violence by celebrating his birthday?

We also celebrate George Washington’s birthday—General George Washington. Are Americans advocating violence by celebrating his birthday? Dwight Eisenhower became a US president—General Dwight Eisenhower. Presumably the people who voted for him respected him. Were they all secretly serial killers?

We also celebrate Veterans Day. Are Americans advocating violence by celebrating people who are defined by the fact that they engaged in violence?

We celebrate Memorial Day, to honor soldiers—professional purveyors of violence—who died in carrying out acts of violence. Is this immoral?

Is it immoral to celebrate VE day?

In Trafalgar Square there is Nelson’s Column, a man celebrated only for his ability to kill Frenchmen. Are the British people thereby advocating violence?

Good point.

Newspaper essays are 1,000 words if you’re lucky. I would be happy to give you some of my ideas if you write me directly; but I support Booker T. Washington’s ideas, Marcus Garvey’s ideas, Malcolm X’s ideas (I’m not allowed to say I support the NOI without severe repercussions), the Black Panthers’ ideas. No need to reinvent the wheel.

I haven’t read the essay, but thanks for the support.

Who said we were asking you for reparations? The US government committed the crime. Also, immigrants from Russia come here and become white, which they can do because there is a lower caste called blacks. They derive benefits from slavery.

They come to America because America is rich, and America is rich because of slavery.

Incidentally, I did not have anything to do with the Savings and Loan meltdown from many years ago, but I (or at least my parents) had to pay “reparations” to fix the problem. So did you, but I don’t hear you complaining about it. I bet you only get upset when it comes to race…(I’ve seen your argument a thousand times before.) I wonder why?

Who said anything about supporting violence?

Thea Winter:
I wish everything worked out so wonderfully too!

You’re back! But not because you want the attention…

Why exactly would I risk my job and my livelihood by espousing these unpopular opinions? Just to get attention?

James Francis:
It is important, because, ironically, all the negative comments confirm what I wrote in my essay: As soon as you criticize King, you are branded someone who wants to murder all whites, which of course all but prevents you from advancing ideas that might promote black or interracial progress (which might still be flawed of course, but we don’t even get the chance to try them—or, it seems, discuss them, in America).

Who said anything about a racist hellhole? The vast majority of blacks stayed in America after the American Civil War, which ended slavery. Are you therefore claiming that this is proof that there was no racism in America in 1865?

Just because blacks are (no longer) being lynched left and right for looking at your father the wrong way doesn’t mean we should sing hallelujah or keep our uppity ni**er lips sealed. And, yes, I did leave the country once and hope to again. The other guest lives in England; evidently the British accents of the hosts didn’t clue you in that this wasn’t an American radio program.

Like many of the commenters (and I repeat it seems the negative comments are primarily coming from people who admit that they are white Americans), you simply state that King was perfect and anyone who criticizes him is wrong. I thought I provided some facts in my essay for people to respond to. So far they haven’t.

I’m not sure what your point is. There weren’t riots as a result of King’s speeches; but there weren’t riots as a result of Malcolm X’s speeches either. The Panthers explicitly were against rioting. I do talk in my essay about the riots that occurred despite King’s speeches.

Rochelle Woodruff:
Ouch! Forget the past? Then why do we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday at all? That was 40 years ago! Forget it already. July 4, 1776—Independence Day in America—why do we even know that date? Christmas? Was somebody born on Christmas? What is the motto about September 11? Is it “Never forget” or “Forget”? I forget.

I said integration for its own sake should not have been the goal. You can pursue it for other reasons—not that the goal has been achieved. You write, “Without this substantive goal, the civil rights movement would have floundered and sunk in a sea of good intentions.” Didn’t this happen anyway??

You write, “Hello I lived through some of this civil rights era in the south during my time in the military…”

For obvious reasons, I don’t need to comment any further.

Please address your question to Noam Chomsky.

John Boustani:
Where did you get “black militancy” from? Incidentally, King described his own movement as “militant”—are you calling King a lunatic?

Now that we’ve established that you agree with my essay—I say in it that anyone who criticizes King is accused of being a Black Panther or a Mau Mau—what is wrong with black militancy, again?

I agree that we should take a look at Rwanda and Darfur. Maybe it has something to do with the legacy of colonialism. Oh, but you don’t want us to discuss that. “Blaming the white man” is racist! Shame on me! Why can’t I just forget the past? I’m too angry—maybe dangerous and unstable!

I agree with you there is a movement afoot to revise what King actually said. I based my views on his actual speeches and essays, not on what I wish he would have said or written. Admittedly, he did get more progressive near the end; but that’s not what he’s celebrated for. He didn’t get a Nobel Prize for opposing the Vietnam War.

Where did you get the idea that, for me, “it’s all about money”? And how does that jibe with WN’s comment (just above yours), saying that King believed it was primarily about money?? Is it okay if King wants money (for a Poor People’s Campaign) but bad if I say it’s just about money (which I don’t believe I did…certainly not in my essay).

Excellent point—because you’re right: we’ve even seen on this web page people trying to dismiss my arguments with ad hominems about my being angry (since when is that a crime, even if it were true?), irrational, or violent. Of course, this doesn’t mean the powers that were weren’t mindful of the fires raging in the ghetto or the other black leaders out there besides King who liked cherry pie.
You’re back again! You must like me.

I support Cosby.

But if the US government (if you don’t want me to just write “White Americans”) would stop destroying groups like the UNIA, the NOI, the Black Panthers, we’d probably be much better off in the ghettoes.
You also write, “The show in the last 5 minutes deteroriated into conspiracy drivel. I think Farley has lost any and all credibility by going down that path.” It was the caller who brought up conspiracies…but my comment about COINTELPRO is not a conspiracy “theory”—my God, you can find it in history books and probably even download declassified files about that program on the government’s own websites… Go to the library, talk to a history professor. (Such unenlightened arrogance!)

This reminds me of a right wing website where one commenter was railing against the fact that King and Condoleezza Rice were called “Dr. King” and “Dr. Rice” by the media, even though they just had honorary doctorates. He said that at first he attributed this to liberals pandering to African-Americans. It didn’t occur to him that they were called “Dr. King” and “Dr. Rice” because they actually had Ph.D.’s, which he could have discovered by reading a book or even Googling.

Another statement in support of King and against me (not my essay, against me) without an argument to support it! In his drum major speech, King talked about the hundreds of awards he won…I can imagine accusations of egotism I’d be getting if I mentioned the awards I’ve won, even if I was trying to say they weren’t important. But I guess when King does it, it’s okay.

If I were selfish (I think that’s what you really meant to say) I’d write anti-black essays like Thomas Sowell and rake in a huge salary as a professor at Stanford or Harvard.

Chris in Nashville:
You live in a city that has a statue of the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, holding a gun in his hand, paid for in part with public funds, despite the fact that the South lost the Civil War that ended slavery. If you’re against violence please start there.

Of course, as soon as you open your mouth about the statue you will find out who the real violent forces in this country are, as I did.

And, yes, white Americans (okay, okay, if you want to be fair, “the vast majority of white Americans”) do not support reparations for slavery because they do not believe anything bad happened. That is why they cannot even support a congressional committee to look into whether or not there should be reparations.

I do not know this statistic. Please enlighten me and I will try to respond.

Lamii Kpargoi:
Your comment is listed under “Jennifer” for some reason. If only Americans could discuss this issue, it wouldn’t get discussed. My essay would not have been published in an American newspaper. But I agree with you.

I agree with your first point. As for King’s unassailability, people did assail him, as I said, for putting women and children on the front lines (among other things).

What percentage of whites voted for David Duke, the Klansman and neo-Nazi in Louisiana? What percentage are STILL angry over O.J. Simpson? What percentage support reparations for slavery? What percentage support busing black kids into white suburbs? What percentage saw the Rodney King tape and saw no wrongdoing? Who created the categories “black” and “white”?

If you can explain why the vast majority of the negative comments are coming from white Americans, but that has nothing to do with their solidarity as a group when it comes to racial matters, please enlighten us. (Didn’t we just get through a week of white American reporters telling us that Obama would be hurt if whites saw him as “the black candidate”? Were these white reporters all anti-white racists?) As for lumping all whites together, John Brown did come up in the radio show, so clearly we weren’t doing that.

(By the way, can you show me another person like John Brown from the 20th century?)

Thank you for your comment.

I’ll leave the preaching to the Reverend Dr. King. I presented arguments and facts. Please respond to them if you are able.

I’m not sure if Farai Chideya is a “real African-American news program”. I met her at a party once, though. I have been on the Tavis Smiley Show twice. Satisfied?

I’m not sure if black Americans would want to have this type of discussion, just as there was and is complete silence on the story of the Klan statue on Nashville, despite the fact that it was all over the white media outlets, locally and nationally. The black local media had a complete blackout. Too scary a story to touch, I guess.

As for the newsworthiness, I’m not sure if that’s here or there. Obviously the BBC disagreed with you. If by that, though, you mean it’s not interesting, then all the listeners and commenters disagree with you.

But if you really mean, “I don’t like Farley,” then say so.

You’re a little slow on the uptake. In my Guardian essay I say that I used to be a “Martin Luther King” professor at MIT. And I finished my comments on the radio program by saying how racism has changed since the 60’s, so that people like me could be let in as university professors to give those who might otherwise riot the impression that it was possible to attain the American dream.

I think it’s humorous to say that you seem unable to read or hear: I’ve never said there has been no advancement in civil rights. You no longer see lynchings advertised in the newspaper ahead of time, do you? But Caltech has 2 African-American tenured (permanent) faculty members, despite its being around for a century. The first African-American was given tenure in 1998, I believe. King would be proud.

African-Americans would be delighted to just be treated as Americans. (Although I’ve never heard anyone say that there was something wrong with St. Patrick’s Day parades.)

Who says a cultural historian would “counter” my statements? Was there anything wrong with my statements? Were my facts wrong? If so, demonstrate it, please.

In reality you just mean, facts or no facts, that you disagree with me.

Who in the world said anything about armed revolution? Only you, as far as I can make out.

King did not, until the very end, say that non-violence (which did not simply mean “not using violence”—-is that so difficult to get into your head?) was a practical measure: it was morally the only correct position. That is a different argument than the one you present, which I might or might not agree with.

Why can I fault King for black on black violence? Because it proves he did not succeed, and his counter-intuitive philosophy has little or no merit unless it actually works.

Read what I said to Hampton: we aren’t arguing about violence as an alternative to non-violence, nor are we talking about non-violence being practical. Maybe it was practical, maybe not. That was not the issue—according to King (unless there’s some random speech I just haven’t heard)—until very late.

Thank you for your threatening email. I will alert the police and have them arrest you. Why? Because I am interpreting your words in as twisted a fashion as I see fit.

Now you are getting to the point. I am not as charismatic as King, who gives a damn about my logic, facts, or argument!

And thanks for agreeing with one of the points I make in my essay: that black Americans are not even allowed to sound angry. What’s wrong with being angry, again?

And I’ve tried to do a little bit…but you need a group to back you up or you get crushed. Maybe I should become a preacher.

Paul Prochaska:
If you can find the words “all white Americans” in my essay I’d be surprised. Obviously after a point it becomes absurd to keep saying “some white Americans” when you’re talking about the majority, or to keep pointing out that you don’t mean 100% or even necessarily 95% when you say “white Americans”. That’s the English language.

King used exactly the same language: “First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate.”

And you are refuted by my statement in the radio program about John Brown.

But you’re not seriously suggesting that we have a discussion about racism in America without talking about “blacks” and “whites,” are you? (Mind you, I think I was always careful to say “white Americans,” to distinguish them from “white Europeans,” which invalidates your idea that any subsequent comment would be racist, since “white Americans” are not a race.)

If the vast majority of white Americans opposed segregation, there wouldn’t have been segregation, since America was a democracy (for white Americans).

As for your amazingly arrogant statement about not quoting what I don’t understand (more “violence of the tongue”)….all I did was quote it. In what way did I demonstrate not understanding it?

Let’s recall how this came about. A caller said we couldn’t fault King because he was just following the Bible. I pointed out that God is far from being non-violent in the Bible. So she said she meant the New Testament. I said the Bible could probably be used to justify about anything, but I gave the quote (without any interpretation as far as I recall) about Jesus’s saying, “I bring not peace but a sword.” Whatever he meant by that—and your interpretation may be correct—you cannot say that it CANNOT be interpreted to mean something about strife, discord, conflict. But as it happens, I think your interpretation is a stretch. Here’s the whole passage:

“But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

“For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—’”

I don’t read this at all as saying anything about being “easily swayed” as you put it. Maybe that’s what your Sunday school teacher told you to avoid uncomfortable questions about why Jesus was being so harsh and talking about swords.

But if you don’t like this quote, there are others where Jesus isn’t speaking metaphorically about swords—in fact, he tells his disciples to go get some; there is the version of the Sermon on the Mount where he spends as much time cursing as blessing; he curses plenty of cities, he cursed that fig tree to death; he drove out moneychangers with a whip (and not a metaphorical whip); he talks about people being thrown into the lake of fire; and at the end of the world there will be a battle. The whole point—remember I said the Bible can probably be used to justify anything—is you’ve shown yourself how verses can be tortured into weird meanings.

And a word of advice: the more you yell, the less you listen. I didn’t yell once in the entire program; you have invented this fiction. Or maybe you need to turn down your hearing aid. The only thing close to this that I can think of is that at one point, Stafford (a caller) cut me off in mid-sentence, so I spoke louder in order to finish my point. This reminds me of a movie, I think the comedy Anger Management. Adam Sandler’s character is on a plane, speaking normally, and a stewardess tells him to stop shouting. He isn’t and says so. She says there is no need to get excited. He isn’t and says so. Eventually he is tasered (or something like that).

Not everybody who disagrees with you is a fool. Not everyone who agrees with you isn’t a fool. But most importantly, your posting was so rude, so insulting, so condescending, so mean-spirited it’s obvious you’re not exhibiting any of the characteristics of Martin Luther King, Jesus, or any of the people you claim to be a follower of.

“He is nothing but a self-indulgent publicity seeker trying to make a name for himself by saying outrageous things. Shallow, shallow, shallow.”

More “violence of the tongue,” the kind of thing King said violated his philosophy of non-violence. In what way am I “self-indulgent”? If I were, then I think I would be more concerned for myself than the plight of black people. I’m a “publicity seeker”? The BBC contacted me. I don’t consider my statements the least bit outrageous, nor am I the first person t criticize King—he had plenty of black critics back before he became a god. As for “shallow, shallow, shallow”—that’s doesn’t refute a single syllable of my argument.

Valentine Ifeacho:
Was not listening to the radio program. No one was advocating violence on the radio program. Q-tips work like a charm!

Moreover, by and large (if not totally) King did not, did not, did not advocate non-violence as a practical strategy (except very late). I might agree with the idea of using it as a strategy. I disagree with the philosophy. So do you. If I spat in your face and threatened your child, I am absolutely certain you would not smile and forgive me. And the opposite of King’s philosophy was not violence: the term “non-violence” is a misnomer. There may be some little known letter to Coretta that outlines something different from what I’ve read and heard, but I have tried to base my criticisms on what King actually said and wrote.

Stephanie J:

You’re perfectly right: I was being sexist. In the 1950’s, women did not change their last names upon getting married, no woman expected the man to pay for dates or to open doors for her, and every woman could join any army in the world and fight in combat positions on the front lines. In fact, that phrase “women and children first”? Totally fabricated. No one ever used it. When the Titanic went down, it would have been Kate Winslet’s character who actually sacrificed herself to save Leonardo DiCaprio. In fact, had they written the script that way, the film might have made money; it was a flop at the box office because nobody likes sexist stereotypes, especially women.

This whole chivalry thing? What a load of bunk. In fact, if there’s one thing this world needs less of, it’s chivalry. I think women everywhere would agree with me on that score, without exception.
I was just speaking with a leading figure in the Black Power movement who said that she herself promoted the idea that it was “black manhood” that needed to be defended. Even though she was a progressive activist in the 1960’s. She must have been pulling my leg, because how could she have said that when you and I both know better than she what the 1960’s were like?

Sojourner Truth, the ex-slave and abolitionist, said, “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?” She must have been crazy to want these things—she clearly didn’t understand the meaning of true oppression!

In fact, when I wrote “women, children, and old people,” I was being doubly sexist. Even though I said “old PEOPLE”, it’s quite obvious I didn’t mean men as well as women, because “people” can never refer to “men”. So I clearly was not referring to the fact that women, children, and old people are physically weaker than the policeMEN they would be in physical confrontations with, and hence frighteningly vulnerable. (In fact, there must have been policeWOMEN, too, attacking black protesters; the sexists who shot all the video footage must have edited them out.)

And I couldn’t have been referring to what other people said about King at the time. Because before my essay, no one in the history of the world had ever criticized King. All of my criticisms are entirely original, including this one. I just was playing fast and loose with the truth when I suggested that this was a criticism levelled at King by his contemporaries. Obviously I was just putting on paper my own sexist beliefs.

When I held up Ida B. Wells as a model in the radio interview, I didn’t mean it, because I secretly think a woman’s role is exactly what Stokely Carmichael is reputed to have said it should be (only he couldn’t have said that because there were no sexists in the 1950’s or 1960’s). King, on the other hand, had very enlightened views about women—he wanted to share his love with as many as possible, according to popular belief. (He was no “hypocrite,” however, and neither are you, for using “violence of the tongue,” which King explicitly forbade, even though you profess to be a supporter of him.) King also had lots of women serving as his direct lieutenants: exactly half of them were women in fact.

But wait—what is Martin Luther King doing using this phrase (about Vietnam), “So they go, primarily women and children and the aged.” He couldn’t possibly have; that sounds too much like what I wrote. Whoever edited the transcript of that speech must have made a mistake. He says it again here: “We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.” No way! Is he actually saying women are as immature as children and can’t make up their own minds about whether to take certain actions?

Thanks for pointing out my appallingly sexist assumptions.

I’m not aware of a single speech of King’s where he says, “Legally prosecute anyone who commits a crime against us, or at least insist that they be prosecuted.” His philosophy was such that you bless those that curse you. You can do that, but I don’t quite see why that meant you shouldn’t pursue criminals at least through the justice system. I blame him for setting us on that path.

I’m not sure what criminal tendencies the Black Panthers had up until 1971—it was King who broke the law numerous times. I know it was part of COINTELPRO to create the impression that the Panthers were merely gangsters.

The Civil Rights Movement was all but over by the time the Panthers came on the scene. You merely ask the question, but I have seen no evidence that the Panthers set anything back (what, was the Civil Rights Act repealed in 1969?). Yes, the majority may have become more hardened—but you leave out the option of the minority hardening even more. That didn’t happen, but if your philosophy is one of surrender then simply say so.

Finally, please don’t put words into my mouth! I don’t recall putting words into anyone’s mouth. I said that once, when a caller claimed I was even against affirmative action! Listen to the whole program. You won’t hear me say I’m against affirmative action. That’s called “putting words into somebody’s mouth.” Sorry if I happened to have used the term correctly.

I listened to the whole program again. On not one occasion did I myself put words into anyone’s mouth. You have invented that out of whole cloth. At no point did I “recharacterize [presumably callers’] statements”. (Sorry if I am recharacterizing your statement!)

I let everyone finish his or her point (the one exception being when the caller, Stafford, cut me off in the middle of a sentence, but I continued so I could finish my point), and then I responded. Even when they thought I disagreed with them, I pointed out how I agreed with them, if I in fact did; and if I disagreed with them, I presented logical reasons why.

And the statement that I was “missing the point” is excellent: It implies that you know what the point was, but I didn’t! What if, perchance, it was the other way around?

Thomas Murray:
No, I wasn’t having a bad day. You remind me of Southerners who said slaves did not want to be free until white Northerners put the idea in their heads. They couldn’t conceive of the notion that a black person might actually think that way.

I will agree with you though: the 1,000 word version of my argument forced me to make a slightly imprecise statement. The longer one is this: “One of the worst aspects of the King legacy is that, thanks to King, no black today is even allowed to express his dislike of racists without facing sanctions. Sure, you can speak in general terms about diversity and discrimination—as long as you don’t blame anyone, and if you are independently wealthy.

But if whites pay your salary, forget about bringing up racism, even in the most genteel and objective fashion. You’ll be instantly labelled a radical, a Black Panther (that’s supposed to be a bad thing), a Mau Mau (also a bad thing) who wants to kill the white man (and secretly wants to marry the white woman).” I’ll stand by this, Tavis Smiley and NPR notwithstanding. And I’m the proof, right here, in this forum: you even call me “powerfully deranged” (more “violence of the tongue”!).

More proof is the fact that a student board member from my hometown of Rochester, New York was viciously assailed recently for suggesting that the school district hire more black teachers. (The students are almost all black and the teachers mostly white.) The response was swift and brutal. But according to you, that kind of thing never happens.

And you must be joking by listing news programs as counterexamples. That’s like saying that nightly news presenter Tom Brokaw is political because every day on the news he talks about politics. Everyone knows that someone reading the news is not supposed to be presenting his or her own views.

Moreover, given the statistics about what highly rated shows are watched by both blacks and whites in America—essentially none—I highly doubt that a black news program is watched by any white Americans at all. When I’m speaking to friends or family, sure, I can say all manner of things and be safe. It’s only when the audience is white that it becomes dangerous. That should have been obvious.

And there are topics that even black news programs won’t touch with a 10-foot pole. (Mumia Abu-Jamal, Assata Shakur, H. Rap Brown, to name a few.)

By the way, please send me pictures of your parents at Civil Rights marches.

Thank for making my point. Thanks to King, you can get ahead in this society by being a Colin Powell or a Condi Rice or if you try not to be “the black candidate” like Obama. If you are not right-wing or want to have a real discussion about racism, it is much harder for you to survive in the system. Someone who thinks like Huey Newton but has a Harvard law degree will somehow not get made partner at that New York firm….

Des Currie:
Then let’s have a holiday for everybody who made a single step. You and I both know King isn’t praised for taking one step. (And your comment about religion is odd given that King was a preacher.)

James in Indianapolis:


Chad Robinson:
I have criticized Al Sharpton (and I got jumped on for doing that too, even though, as with King, I was just drawing on things Al Sharpton had actually said). I have rolled my sleeves up and I have tried to do something. I failed, in part because I realized there was a pernicious philosophy that was blocking progress. So before anything else can happen, I am trying to root out that philosophy.

I did offer alternatives. I mentioned the Panthers many times. In my 1,000 word essay there wasn’t space for alternatives (it’s weird that so many people seem unable to comprehend the space limitations of newspapers), but I liked the ideas of Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers. I like individuals such as Paul Robeson and Ida B. Wells.

Thanks for the “manure” comment, more “violence of the tongue”. How about presenting an argument if what I say is so obviously bad. Oh, you can’t.

Izzy:“Narrow minded” (more “violence of the tongue”)—but no evidence to support that. Is it so hard to come up with arguments instead of just insults?

Your final comment is very interesting. The myth about Martin Luther King’s alleged wild sex life you would think would get more people angry than my essay; but it has become accepted as fact even by people who idolize him. I don’t get it. As much as I criticize King, at least I don’t believe these stories!

You conclude by saying that I think there has been “no advance” in civil rights—when in fact I said the opposite during the show. Indeed, just as you cut me off I was making the point about how having a few blacks teaching at Caltech (only 2 African-Americans have ever been granted tenure at Caltech in its 100-year history) does not signify that we’ve reached the promised land…

5 Responses to “MLK Pt2: Prof Farley replies”

  1. 1 Dennis Junior
    February 19, 2009 at 23:26

    I am very glad that Professor Farley took an extremely amount of time to respond to people’s concerns…

    Dennis Junior

  2. February 20, 2009 at 05:01

    Dear Mr. Farley,

    I stand by what I said. You can’t change a racist by saying he’s wrong and “please give us respect, why don’t you?” That’s totally unrealistic. You have to show people that you deserve respect and integration gives people that opportunity. Also, every movement needs a leader. Lots of people doing things separately is great but a leader gives us a collective vision, which is critical to move our collective consciousness forward. MLK did that. Like many an MIT graduate I’ve dealt with in my life, you’ve come up with some utterly wrong-headed notion and pounded it out in an offensive, wrong-headed fashion. This is typical Internet troll behavior. And now I stop feeding you.


    That Dastardly Maria Alexander

  3. 3 VictorK
    February 22, 2009 at 10:09

    I’m sorry that Prof. Farley is unable to understand plain English (re the current leftism of the civil rights movement). His pretensions to any kind of credibility are exposed by his confusing ‘Jim Crow’ (‘laws and customs that discriminate against, segregate, or humiliate Negroes’ – Safire’s Political Dictionary) with violence and lynching. Affirmative action discriminates against whites: a rational mind will have no difficulty in understanding the parallel with Jim Crow. Just as a Muslim may be ignorant about the details of Islam, an African-American may also be a know-nothing on many points of his own history.

    The Professor is incapable of grasping or addressing a straightforward question: your US guests were the usual assortment of ‘hate AmeriKKKa’ blacks. I asked on the blog why, given this attitude, people with such opinions didn’t simply leave a place they routinely portrayed as a racist hellhole for those of their colour, and permanently settle in a better country. I’m still waiting for an answer.

    In what he doubtless intended as an ironic turn of phrase, the Prof. indicated that blacks weren’t going to keep their “uppity ni**er lips sealed.” What, even if it meant they’d be spared the perpetual embarrassment of spokesmen like Prof. Farley?

  4. 4 RhondaCoca
    February 23, 2009 at 02:52

    Why do we only look at MLK’s work on intergration? Why do we gloss over so much of his legacy. King spoke a great deal about poverty esp. urban poverty as well as many other issues.

    I often refer people to MLK’s The Other America speech which he delivered in 1967. It is extremely relevant today!

    You can and should read it here!


    In addition, I am offended by some who claim black Americans have not come far enough. Blacks have made strides since the 1960s and it is visible. My parents are black immigrants and they came to this country with high levels of education and wealth that they attained overseas. Since the 1960s, black crime, black poverty as well as other situations have fallen. Why do people continue to repeat the same lies!

    Algernon Austin writes a great deal about this, read his book: Getting it Wrong!

  5. February 24, 2009 at 08:39

    by the way,who is blind and a low class analyst to think that Luthers dream has been achieved by Obama win to the white house?


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