“I am a great man,” Jonathan Majors tells his then-girlfriend Grace Jabbari in an audio recording that was played at his trial after he was charged with assaulting her. “I am doing great things.”
Majors’s appearance has changed in some subtle but noticeable ways since he started appearing in court in November. In a Good Morning America interview with Linsey Davis that aired this week — his first since he was found guilty of assaulting and harassing Jabbari, and ahead of his sentencing — Majors seems to have slimmed down, or he is filling his clothes out differently, giving him longer lines and a softer frame. He has gotten rid of the beard and facial hair. His skin is supple and moist, like a baby’s. He sheds a few tears. He is sensitive and attempting to seem genuine. His doting girlfriend, Meagan Good, sits over in the corner with an expression of deep concern on her face. She is nervous for him. When the interviewer asks about their relationship, he says that she is “an angel.” He is “lucky to have her.” She is his “Coretta Scott King.”
In a recording played at his trial, we also hear Majors tell his former girlfriend Jabbari that she needed to be more like a Coretta Scott King, or a Michelle Obama, using the names of these beloved Black women as an analog for whom he believes a white woman should be in order to stand by him and deserve him.
It’s not that he really believes he’s Martin Luther King Jr.; he knows that he can’t actually compare himself to the civil rights leader. But he considers himself an archetypical kind of man with his own unique power who deserves to be treated like an MLK. He feels entitled to a woman like Coretta, a woman understood to be in service to a cause, and thus in service to the man she loves, who, in this dated fantasy, is powerful. This is the part that is most absurd to me.
What greatness is it that he thinks he possesses? What kind of power, exactly?
It should be said that many of us, especially Black women, know there are at least two stories about Martin Luther King Jr.: the one in which he is one of the greatest and most transformative civil rights leaders of all time, and the one in which he is an adulterous husband. The latter has been confirmed by biographers based on firsthand accounts and evidence of communication between King and Coretta. It is, without a doubt, a stain on King’s pristine legacy, a claim that haunts our memory of him and complicates the way we relate to him.
Coretta Scott King was no doormat. She was a championed civil rights activist whom MLK said he learned much from. Coretta Scott King continued MLK’s legacy because it was her legacy, her birthright. She gave so much of herself to civil rights struggles here in the States, yet these awful tropes reduce her to a meek and doting companion who cared for MLK’s home and children, which apparently only belonged to Dr. King.
So which version of the story is Majors aligning himself with when he tells Jabbari that she should be more like Coretta Scott King? Which part of what we’ve been told about MLK’s life is he relating to, and who does he actually expect a woman he dates to be? The initial altercation between Majors and Jabbari happened after she saw texts on his phone from another woman; is he saying he expects a woman to look away as he serves his own interests?
Majors is using the names of Coretta Scott King and Michelle Obama to evoke the image and trope of the Strong Black Woman. He used this trope to belittle his white partner (she is not Black and he is not a civil rights leader, so this is an inherently unachievable expectation) and to perpetuate the reductive assumption that Black women will absorb any kind of abuse as long as there’s a victory story at the end, whatever turmoil he sets upon her, no matter what harm he may cause.
This is what he means when he compares Meagan Good to Coretta Scott King: that she is enduring, enduring him, enduring the baggage that comes with loving him, and is doing it with a smile.