Last week, National Public Radio reported on a study by Indiana University professor Sara Konrath and others. Professor Konrath and her co-authors showed that, while Americans of all races think warmer thoughts about African Americans in general on Martin Luther King Day than they do the rest of the year, their opinion of General Colin Powell and President Barack Obama goes down on that day. Professor Konrath’s theory is that this is because Mr Powell and Mr O are prominent male African American leaders, and Dr King was a prominent male African American leader, so we compare them to him on that day. Since Dr King is presented on his birthday as a saint of America’s civic religion, that sets an impossible standard for any living person to meet, and they look bad by contrast.
I am sure there is much truth in Professor Konrath’s theory. At the same time, I would point out that Messrs. Powell and Obama are particularly ill-chosen as comparisons with Dr King. Dr King was a thoroughgoing pacifist, while Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 war against Iraq and Secretary of State during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And Barack Obama is one of the most warlike US presidents ever, responsible for ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, for injecting the US into wars in Libya and Syria, and for sponsoring a coup in Honduras that constituted an act of aggressive war against that country, among many other acts of extreme violence. If people actually listen to Dr King’s message on the day America sets aside to remember him, one would expect their opinion of warlords like Mr Powell and Mr O to be very low indeed.
In honor of this MLK Day, I’d like to post this statement of Dr King’s on the power of nonviolence: