When MLK Jr. Rejected “Obnoxious Peace”
As an organization with “Peace” in our name, we encounter a fair amount of misunderstanding about our political positions.
Some people insist that peace means “All Lives Matter,” rather than recognizing that slogan as a specious and evasive response to the rightful and powerful call for Black equality and freedom.
Some people believe (often with a self-assured, spiritually-glossed condescension) that peace always requires total pacifism, including abstaining from the “destruction of property,” or even any angry language.
Many of these definitions of “peace” do not make any room for living, complex conversations and decisions that include armed resistance and self-defense as legitimate options among oppressed communities. Instead, pre-emptive peace posits pacifism as a precondition for any respectable action.
What if, instead, we understood pacifism as a worthy, crucial, beautiful and sacred stream in the larger, ever-flowing, ever-shifting river of social movements for collective liberation?
And what if we spent more of our energy figuring out how to effectively counter the false forms of peace against which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke so passionately?
I love Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — and specifically the movement(s) to “Reclaim MLK” — because it gives us a chance to reflect on the radical, visionary, subversive King, not just the sanitized postage-stamp icon.
And in a context of Buddhist Peace Fellowship, I’m especially grateful to read what the Reverend had to say about a little something he called “Obnoxious Peace.”
I had a long talk the other day with a man about this bus situation. He discussed the peace being destroyed in the community, the destroying of good race relations. I agreed that it is more tension now. But peace is not merely the absence of this tension, but the presence of justice. And even if we didn’t have this tension, we still wouldn’t have positive peace.
Yes it is true that If the Negro accepts his place, accepts exploitation, and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be an obnoxious peace. It would be a peace that boiled down to stagnant complacency, deadening passivity…
If peace means this, I don’t want peace.
If peace means accepting second class citizenship I don’t want it.
If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.
If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace.
If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace.
In a passive, non-violent manner we must revolt against this peace. Jesus says in substance: I will not be content until justice, goodwill, brotherhood, love yes, the kingdom of God are established upon the earth. This is real peace. Peace is the presence of positive good.
Finally, never forget that there is an inner peace that comes as a result of doing God’s will.
That last line is important because “doing God’s will” (or, in a Buddhist sense, acting wholesomely, in alignment with the dharma), is King’s code for f*cking up the oppressive status quo, in order to make space for a truly transformative (r)evolution of humanity.
If we recognize that the status quo is saturated with normalized violence (or as David Loy puts it, the institutionalization of the Three Poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion), then making space for positive transformation will almost certainly entail some form of “disturbing the peace.” This can sometimes cause confusion and contestation of terms, as state forces appeal to peace, law and order in order to bludgeon, sedate, and contain progressive social movements.
At Buddhist Peace Fellowship, we train together in “disturbing the peace.”
Productively and compassionately, with joy and awakening in our hearts, we want to disturb and disrupt the hegemony of oppression, violence, and ecological destruction — moving instead toward collective liberation.
Whether you are throwing down for disability justice; advancing trans and women’s rights; opposing what King called the “three evils” of racism, poverty, and militarism; or making international connections — may you have a beautiful week of compassionate action in the spirit of the radical King!
May we reject obnoxious peace, and cultivate conditions for true inner and outer peace for all.
Three Buddhists We Love, on MLK, Jr.
BPFer, Kingian nonviolence trainer, and founder of East Point Peace Academy Kazu Haga speaks on Buddha nature, mindfulness, and Six Principles of Kingian Nonviolence.
Author of Heirs to Ambedkar: The Rebirth of Engaged Buddhism in India, Alan spoke this weekend at BZC on The Dharma of Martin Luther King, Jr. (I’m hoping the audio will be published soon — be on the lookout!)
The always tremendous Zenju, author of The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender, references Martin Luther King, Jr. as possibly her first dharma teacher.