As I think about Black History Month, Martin Luther King Jr., and the value of direct action, I look at the lesson MLK Jr. taught about shame and guilt.
Here is a video of Martin Luther King Jr. being interviewed by Dr. Kenneth Clark regarding comments that Malcolm X had made about King. I’ve copied some excerpted text of the interview on love, shame, and guilt, and included it below the video.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: Well, I don’t think of love…as emotional bosh. I don’t think of it as a weak force. But I think of love as something strong, and that organizes itself into powerful direct action. This is what I try to teach in the struggle in the South. That we are not engaged in a struggle that means we sit down and do nothing.
There’s a great deal of difference between non-resistance to evil and non-violent resistance. Non-resistance leaves you in a state of stagnant passivity and dead-end complacency. Wherein non-violent resistance means you do resist in a very strong and determined manner. And I think some of the criticisms of non-violence, or some of the critics, fail to realize that we are talking about something very strong, and they confuse non-resistance with non-violent resistance.
Dr. Kenneth Clark: He goes beyond that, in some of the things I’ve heard him say, to say that this is deliberately — your philosophy of love of the oppressor, which he identifies completely with the non-violent movement — he says, this philosophy and this movement are actually encouraged by whites because it makes them comfortable, makes them believe that Negroes are meek, supine creatures.
King: Well, I don’t think that’s true. If anyone has ever lived with a non-violent movement in the South, from Montgomery on through the Freedom Rides and through the sit-in movement and the recent Birmingham movement, and seen the reactions of many of the extremists and reactionaries in the white community, he wouldn’t say that this movement makes, this philosophy makes them comfortable. I think it arouses a sense of shame within them often, in many instances, I think it does something to touch the conscience and establish a sense of guilt. Now so often people respond to guilt by engaging more in the guilt-evoking act in an attempt to drown the sense of guilt. But this approach certainly doesn’t make the white man feel comfortable. I think it does the other thing. It disturbs this conscience and it disturbs this sense of contentment he’s had.
There are many lessons that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community’s civil rights movement can take from the Black Civil Rights Movement. The value of non-violent resistance and shaming — of creating a sense of guilt — is one powerful lesson that LGBT community civil rights activists could learn from the Black Civil Rights Movement.