Martin Luther King, Jr: The “Hero” Dilemma


In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., considered one of the most well-known and revered figures in American history (and one can also argue worldwide), I have decided to discuss, even complicate a bit, the notion of just what makes people heroes.

Granted, though, it is more convenient to say that it is today, a Monday, when everyone can get the day off (three-day weekend, whoot!). But I digress. 😛 Anyway, carrying on…

Ever since we, as American citizens, have learned about this great figure in our elementary school history class ages ago, we have come to associate Martin Luther King, Jr. with the Civil Rights Movement; he was the peaceful pastor, the non-violent prophet that fought against racial discrimination of ‘sixties America (sounds somewhat paradoxical, isn’t it?). Even after over 50 years since his “I Have a Dream” speech, MLK is still celebrated today reverently, someone worth venerating, for his revolutionary actions that sparked discussions on the treatment of minority groups in the United States.

I admit, I grew up believing that MLK was some sort of god, a Gandhi-like individual (King, in fact, was inspired by his philosophies) who did nothing but right for this country. Those 90-page autobiographies that I read in fifth grade not only told of the Reverend’s greatest accomplishments, but they were also well-marketed to children, the dignified and courageous image of MLK that inspired awe and respect in the ten-year-old mind.

However, it was not until I took an African-American Studies course ten years later, as a university student interested in race relations and culture in minorities, that my perspective on MLK changed. While I still regarded him as an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement, I now had second thoughts on the integrity of his character, the personal and lesser-known actions of the great Reverend.

One common misconception of MLK was that he was a proponent for the rights of African-Americans, but he was not a supporter of racial equality. In fact, he demanded a governmental compensatory program, in monetary value, to be given to disadvantaged groups in order to requite the “social evils” that the nation inflicted in the past.

MLK is also rumored to have engaged in extramarital affairs and dabbled in communism. Although one should not criticize him for partaking in such activities, separating his private self with that of the public, these actions have somewhat downplayed his golden exterior. A part of you breaks inside when you find out that the hero that you had looked up to is also human like everyone else.

That is why I wanted to discuss the “hero” dilemma. The “hero” dilemma is the moment that you discover your hero fallen, plummeted from the pedestal on which you had placed him/her in the first place. You elevated him/her to such high standards that the fall is equally a long way down. It is like finding out that a singer or celebrity you idolized got arrested or does meth. That admiration for the individual is gone.

However, despite their actions, despite knowing that they engage in socially-deemed immoral behavior, we should not cast them off. We need to focus on the holistic aspects of the individual, the features that have stirred, charmed, and inspired us to idolize them in the first place. Remembering that they are human like us, prone to faults and mistakes, and also remembering their contributions to the public brings in a new level of understanding, the nuances that make the world all the more interesting.

And with that, I wish you a wonderful MLK Day. See y’all soon, fellow Cynics.

-The Finicky Cynic


4 thoughts on “Martin Luther King, Jr: The “Hero” Dilemma

  1. Ciara

    I really like this post! It is always a little crushing to me when someone I looked up to and admired is a normal person with flaws like anyone else. But it’s also encouraging. If you can find a way to look at those positive qualities with a sort of forgiveness, you can look at yourself in the same way too. And it makes people look more human which I like.

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