People are furious about a recently constructed $10 million statue celebrating Martin Luther King Jr

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Jan 17, 2023 at 12:32 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

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In what might go down in history as the most bizarre physical homage ever constructed, a newly built $10 million statue celebrating Martin Luther King Jr (MLK Jr), one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968, has been harshly criticised and condemned online due to its explicit nature.

According to The Independent, the 22-foot bronze statue, which was unveiled in Boston last week, is supposed to depict a photograph of the activist and his wife Coretta Scott King—a civil rights leader in her own right—embracing after MLK Jr learned he had won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

Titled ‘The Embrace’, the tribute was designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas who wished to create a monument celebrating MLK Jr and his legacy of love, nonviolence and solidarity. The 19-ton artwork was made up of about 609 pieces welded together in Washington by the Walla Walla Foundry and then transported to Boston. It’s now a permanent fixture in Boston Common public park, sitting on the 1965 Freedom Plaza, which honours 69 local civil rights leaders from the 1950s to the 1970s, as reported by The New York Times.

The unveiling coincided directly with Martin Luther King Jr Day—an annual national holiday in the US where citizens mark the birthday of the deceased civil rights leader and pay tribute to his historic legacy.

While the intention behind the statue was to all intents and purposes well-mannered and respectful, its public showcase was met with fraught disapproval. Shortly after images were posted online, social media users—particularly on Twitter—began to erupt, labelling the artwork “obscene” and “pornographic,” while also alluding that the statue resembled part of a male anatomy.

One user crudely—yet not unjustified—wrote: “Spending this #MLKDay2023 laughing for a third straight day that woke liberals have honoured Martin Luther King Jr. with a statue of a giant flaccid penis.” Another individual simply put: “This is a disgrace to Martin Luther King Jr ’s memory.”

https://twitter.com/realginnyrobins/status/1614711052209463298

Not only was there outrage from unknown netizens, Seneca Scott—cousin of MLK Jr’s wife—published a scathing article in the American magazine Compact, clearly expressing her disgust with the nature of the statue. Scott wrote: “Ten million dollars were wasted to create a masturbatory metal homage to my legendary family members—one of the all-time greatest American families… How could anyone fail to see that this was a major dick move (pun intended) that brings very few, if any, tangible benefits to struggling black families?”

Virtue signalling is an extremely significant issue that often takes advantage of and manipulates communities of colour—often for the sole purpose of benefiting white individuals who already hold the majority of power and influence. It’s been a highly saturated political strategy among both US politicians and corporate entities.

Virtue signalling, also closely associated with performative allyship, has been prevalent within the growing Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. As reported by Vice, #BlackoutTuesday—a widespread  social media movement to show solidarity against police violence and the killing of George Floyd—quickly garnered criticism from activists and organisers due to the fact that actively taking part, spreading awareness and participating in the movement directly is far more valuable than simply joining in with an online ‘trend’.

If we’re talking about bizarre physical tributes, it’d be wrong not to mention the most confusing statue to come out of 2022. Only three months ago, a group of highly loyal and fanatic admirers debuted a gigantic monument celebrating Twitter disruptor and tech titan Elon Musk. The statue displayed a goat with the head of their hero Musk riding a rocket—seemingly, they considered this particular depiction to be highly complimentary.

Either way, it’s clear that the recent MLK Jr statue has touched a nerve, and rightly so. Honouring such a significant and important cultural leader is highly beneficial, however, it’s only a positive act if it’s conducted in the right way.

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