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Martin Luther King’s Three Ways to Meet Oppression

Oppression is the state where one is subjected to cruel and unjust treatment. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an activist, spoke largely on oppression and classified three ways in which oppressed people can deal with their oppression. These three ways include; acquiescence, violent, and nonviolent resistance. However, from his text, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. largely emphasizes a nonviolent strategy is the best option to combat the evils of oppression in any system. This is because the nonviolent strategy has moral importance compared to acquiescence and violence.

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The text by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mentions acquiescence as the first way to meet oppression. Acquiescence is seen as a way where the oppressed play along with the oppressive system as they view it as an effortless way to survive instead of challenging the system. In so doing, the oppressed people choose to endure oppression instead of seeking liberation from the oppressors. He says, “One way is acquiescence: the oppressed resign themselves to their doom,” King writes, “But this is not the way out. To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor.” (King Jr., 1958, p. 1). To support his argument, King gives the Bible analogy where while Moses was delivering the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt, he noticed that they exhibited signs of hostility toward their rescuers. This is attributed to them being so used to slavery and unwilling to welcome change. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also goes ahead to support his argument by giving an analogical example of a negro guitarist in Atlanta. From the guitarist’s play, there is a clear indication that the oppressed get comfortable in the hands of the oppressor to an extent where they do not feel aggravated by the situation.

However, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emphasizes that acquiescence should not be the way out when facing oppression. He advocates for the oppressed to stand up for themselves against oppressive systems. For the oppressed, going against the oppressor makes them equal to the oppressors in upholding immoral behavior. Hence, it is clear that the oppressed condones and justifies the oppressors’ actions. Therefore, acquiescence should not be resorted to as it is viewed as cowardly and heightens the actions of the oppressive system.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mentions the second way to meet oppression is by being physically violent and having corroded hatred. He argues that violence and corroded hatred towards the oppressive system only provides a temporary solution. His argument has moral foundations as if the oppressed follow the violence to end oppression, then it is bound to bring about long-term resentment towards them. Since violence and corroded hatred towards oppressors is short-lived, the oppressed are more likely to receive severe consequences if they fail to deliver themselves from oppression. He says, “A second way that oppressed people sometimes deal with oppression is to resort to physical violence and corroding hatred,” King writes, but “Violence… is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all” and “It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.” (King Jr.., 1958, p. 2). King then argues that the use of violence brings about generational bitterness. He urges American Negro and oppression victims not to fall into the trap of resorting to violence to liberate themselves from oppressors, as it is not the better option.

The third and last way to meet oppression, according to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is nonviolent resistance way. In line with this text, he asserts that the execution of nonviolent resistance is the best-preferred way as it is both practically and morally upright. He says, “The third way open to oppressed people in their quest for freedom is the way of nonviolent resistance,” writes King, “The nonviolent resister agrees with the person who acquiesces that one should not be physically aggressive toward his opponent; but he balances the equation by agreeing with the person of violence that evil must be resisted.” (King Jr.., 1958, p. 3). Nonviolent resistance seeks to stand up to oppression without engaging in violent actions. King strongly advocates for this way to achieve liberation from oppressors. This is because it opposes acquiescence by emphasizing that the oppressed don’t have to succumb to evil ways nor engage in violence to rectify the oppressive system. He emphasizes that the oppressed Negro must learn to stand up to the unfair system without using deceit, detest, ill will, or annihilation, and while at it, the oppressed should appreciate the oppressors. By embracing nonviolent resistance, the Negro will not display cowardice in their native homes but will struggle to fight for their rights, thereby making a heroic contribution to the nation and the coming generations.

Nonviolent resistance movements should be the way for the Negro to quest the urge to achieve equality and justice. These kinds of movements are peace-loving and bring order, thereby attracting more participation from the mass and sympathy. King asserts this by saying, “When, however, the mass movement repudiates violence while moving resolutely toward its goal, its opponents are revealed as the instigators and practitioners of violence if it occurs,” King explains, “Then public support is magnetically attracted to the advocates of nonviolence, while those who employ violence are disarmed by overwhelming sentiment against their stand.” (King Jr., 1958, p. 4). Nonviolent resistance is also a way the Negro, who has now excelled in politics, economics, and acquired cultural knowledge, can use to assure the white community who oppressed them that they will not pay evil with evil and that they are forgiving people. Nonviolence’s way of meeting oppression finds a means to promote justice based on persuading through providing conscience judgment. Therefore, since laws have a moral foundation, then nonviolent resistance is a moral means to deal with oppression.

In “After the firebombing” by Malcolm X, he notes that the Black man wants to rise to the power structure and gain his freedom. He concedes that the Blacks have resorted to a revolution against colonialism and imperialism. With time the colonialism era in Africa started collapsing, and Africans were resisting. However, the western powers were not ready to get out of Africa yet, so they passed on indirect colonialism to powers that seemingly didn’t colonize Africa. He says, “When the ball was passed to the United States, it was passed at the time when John Kennedy came into power. He picked it up and helped to run it. He was one of the shrewdest backfield runners that history has ever recorded.… So, they used the “friendly” approach. They switched from the old, open colonial, imperialistic approach to the benevolent approach” (Malcolm X 9). He continues to point benevolent colonialism resorted to the Negros fighting for their rights through nonviolent resistance movements that were militant.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. (1958). Three ways of meeting oppression. In Stride toward freedom. Beacon Press, Boston.

Malcolm X. (1965). After the firebombing, at Ford Auditorium. MalcolmXFiles

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