Martin Luther King Jr.letter from Birmingham jail

Martin Luther King Jr. states his arguments in one of three different ways: one, he states the opposing argument then contrasts it with his own argument, two, he quotes his adversary then either disagrees with his opponent and explains why, or he agrees with his opponent twisting his adversary’s argument to fit into his argument, or Martin Luther King Jr. shows his side of the argument in a positive light by displaying the opposition’s argument in a negative light. The final augmentative style is the one that I will discuss in my analysis of paragraph number twenty-three in King’s Letter from Birmingham jail.   This paragraph begins with a very subtle yet strong statement about King who wants to “confess that over the past few years [he] has been gravely disappointed with the white moderate.” The imagery used in his topic sentence: “honest confession”, gives you the impression that he is opening his deepest and most heartfelt emotions up to you, subsequently; when he is disappointed “gravely”, as he said, by the white moderate’s reactions to his direct action, you begin to feel a prejudice towards them from the very start. This imagery is continued when King states his “regrettable conclusion” about what the real obstacles on the path to freedom really are for Black people: “the white moderate”. Not only does that imagery further our prejudice against the white moderate in activists, but it also sways our judgment toward being more sympathetic to King’s cause.

 

Martin Luther King Jr. becomes even more persuasive with his argument when he compares the white moderate with the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizen’s Councilor, stating “that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is … the white moderate”.  That particular statement puts an entirely negative connotation on the white moderate, which puts a shadow over any and every argument, which they may bring to light. As a consequence when King tells us that the white moderate “is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice”, we are already—not only because of the quotations around the order but also because of King’s previous augmentative tactics– predisposed to opposing the white moderates point of view. The effectiveness of King’s argument becomes clear when we compare the word order with justice in a different context, for example, Law and Order and Justice all take place in courts. In this example all words seem approximately equal, none of which having a negative connotation. On the other hand King in his argument, somehow manages to define order as a negative theme.

Martin Luther King Jr. continually associates the white moderate with the “negative” connotation given to them from the beginning, and contrasts them very effectively with what he wants to be seen as “positive”. The best example of this negative connotation would be when King reveals the white moderate’s preference of “the absence of tension”—which is defined by King as a “negative peace”—to “the presence of justice”—defined by King as a “positive peace”. In this example King is not only strengthening his argument but also, is at the exact same time, weakening the white moderate’s argument by specifically stating that his goal is “positive” and the white moderates are “negative”.

Not only does Martin Luther King Jr. give the white moderate a negative connotation but he also, when told “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action” he equates the white moderate’s argument with a father telling a child to wait for he wants. The white moderate “paternalistically believes that [they] can set a time table for another man’s freedom”. This argument is subtle yet effective because the idea is a paradox, in that you cannot be paternal in relation to a man, someone who has reached manhood or maturity, so trying to enforce a time constraint on a man, especially on a man’s freedom is futile.  King also equates the white moderate’s main argument, the idea that direct action is not necessary and that all problems are resolved over time, with an unrealistic image, a myth. King states that the white moderates actions or inactions are guided “by a mythical concept of time” which leads the white moderate to believe that there is a “more convenient season” which must be on a later date. This argument also ties into an argument made in a later paragraph (26) that “such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.”  It comes to King’s attention that these members of the white moderate are not of ill will, but he argues that this, in essence, is worse than being of ill will because “Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” In this argument Martin Luther King Jr Equates the white moderate’s stance on direct action with water, their position being neither hot nor cold is hard to swallow because “lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” In essence, King is arguing the same idea that another famous man once did.  I will paraphrase the thought: You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time, which is what it seems like the white moderates are trying to do by being on neither one side nor the other definitely.

After reading paragraph number twenty- three the truth, as depicted by Martin Luther King Jr., becomes clear: The white moderate’s argument has many negative shortcomings when compared with King’s positive insights into the situation. Accepting order over justice seems silly following King’s argument, disputing “positive peace” for “negative peace” seems futile. The white moderate’s idealistic view of the world and the situations within it is a myth, and the happy-go-lucky lives that they are living are just fairytales revealed when held under King’s magnifying glass. All of these are ideas, which are argued extremely effectively by King within this paragraph and throughout his letter.

 


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