A phrase I read over at Eve Tushnet’s place gave me deja vu:
…anti-aff. action people talk about the colorblind ideal, judging people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Eventually, I remembered where I’d recently read something similar: Foxnews’ Wendy McElroy had quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in a recent anti-affirmative action column:
…is it ever proper for a tax- funded institution to systematically privilege one class of people at the expense of another?
Martin Luther King, leader of the ’60s civil rights movement, didn’t think so. In his justly renowned speech “I Have a Dream” King declared, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Contemporary “civil rights” leaders are demanding King’s grandchildren be judged on the basis of skin color.
Both Eve and McElroy are pretty typical of their movement: conservatives love citing Dr King to attack affirmative action. In California, the Republican party has even used film clips of Dr. King in anti-affirmative-action ads.
Strangely enough, none of these folks seem to know – or care – that they’re distorting King’s words and meanings to oppose what King himself believed. Without making too big a deal of it, there’s something dishonest about dozens of conservatives quoting MLK to make their anti-AA case – none of whom admit that they’re arguing against what Dr. King himself believed, and against how King himself meant the “I have a dream” speech.
Did Dr. King oppose affirmative action? Well, the term “affirmative action” wasn’t in play during Dr. King’s life; and it’s impossible to know for certain what King would think if he were alive today. But during his life, he certainly didn’t oppose special programs to help blacks. According to historian Clayborne Carson:
Even before the March on Washington, he had applauded the Indian government’s efforts to help the caste once called untouchables through “special treatment to enable the victims of discrimination” including the provision of Especial employment opportunities.” Moreover, in his 1964 book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” King compared the social reforms he favored to the GI Bill of Rights, which gave World War II veterans special preferences including home loans, college scholarships and special advantages in competition for civil service jobs. King maintained that African- Americans could never be adequately compensated for the “exploitation and humiliation” they had suffered in the past, but he proposed a “Negro Bill of Rights” as a partial remedy for these wrongs. He insisted that African-Americans should be compensated through “a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law.” He added that “such measures would certainly be less expensive than any computation based on two centuries of unpaid wages and accumulated interest.”
King wrote that “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years, must now to something special for him, in order to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis.” King’s organization began “Operation Breadbasket,” an early AA-type program. Here’s how Dr. King described the program in Where Do We Go From Here?
Operation Breadbasket is carried out mainly by clergymen. First, a team of ministers calls on the management of a business in the community to request basic facts on the company’s total number of employees, the number of Negro employees, the department or job classification in which all are located, and the salary ranges for each category. The team then returns to the steering committee to evaluate the data and to make a recommendation concerning the number of new and upgraded jobs that should be requested. The decision on the number of jobs requested is usually based on population figures. For instance, if a city has a 30 percent Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30 percent of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas, as the case almost always happens to be.
In fact, King’s writings – taken as a whole, rather than the out-of-context quotes right-wingers prefer – make him sound pretty much like any current defender of Affirmative Action. “Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic.”
Conservatives like Eve do share a dream with Martin Luther King: a dream of a society in which everyone is judged by the content of their characters, not the color of their skins. But we’re not there yet; and as Dr. King said, it’s unrealistic to expect that we can achieve equality without preference programs. To use Dr. King to oppose the policies he favored – or to simply lie and claim he’d oppose such policies, as Wendy McElroy did – ain’t playing kosher.
Attempting to reframe Dr. King as an AA opponent is both dishonest and disrespectful.
UPDATE: So what is going on here? If it were just a matter of Eve’s post, there’d be no problem. But what’s going on is a widespread pattern of conservatives using MLK against affirmative action – and generally using him in a far less evenhanded and fair way than Eve did. And I’ve yet to see a single conservative citing MLK’s “dream” acknowledge that MLK himself thought his vision was compatible with supporting AA-type policies.
Overall, I think conservatives cite MLK so much because Dr. King has – not just with liberals, but with virtually all Americans – a great deal of credibility on race issues. Conservatives, in contrast, have zero credibility on race (except among other conservatives). Since conservatives are so lacking credibility on race, they try and “borrow” some of MLK’s for their own purposes.
Eve asks if she should have to cite MLK’s actual views every time the phrase “content of their character” comes up. Maybe not – but it would be nice if the conservative movement, when frequently citing MLK on affirmative action, would cite his actual views at least some of the time.
Although you may be correct about the views of DR. King, it is rediculous to say that conservatives have no credibility on racial matters. Are you forgetting that it was a conservative president that led the war that freed African Americans from the treachery of slavery? What have liberals done for them other than institute programs where an individual will get a job they are not qualified for, not due to race mind you, but because of education. This only sets them, up to fail. Only when we are judged solely on knowledge and character, will society ever be straightened out. I will tell you this, I am white, but I am descended from slaves just the same. African Americans are not the only ones that have been subjugated in slavery in the past, they are just the only ones that get special treatment because of it. I would be ashamed to accept any type of unfair advantage in any aspect of my life, just because of what happened to my ancvestors. My ancestors were persecuted, not me. African American 200 years ago were slaves. Name one African american under the age of 45 that has had to deal with real racism. Restitution should be made to those had wrong committed against them. Those people are long dead and gone. It is too late to repay them what they are due. The current generation has no place in that debt, and programs designed to repay them for something they did not live through is unjustified and rediculous.
Sincerely, the descendant of Irish and Indian SLAVES.
Restitution should be made to those had wrong committed against them. Those people are long dead and gone. It is too late to repay them what they are due. The current generation has no place in that debt, and programs designed to repay them for something they did not live through is unjustified and rediculous.
Would a more fair system would be to calculate what slaves would have earned if they had been paid, and what they would have left to their children when they died, and take that from descendants of slave owners, who inheritated the profits of those slave owners. I’m sure we could find some families who are still benefiting from wealth accumulated from slave labour.
Abraham Lincoln was a conservative? I suppose you’ll tell us next that Frederick Douglass and John Brown were conservatives, and so was the rest of the abolitionist movement. Oh, and Karl Marx and the Chartist movement agitated against the slave trade and Britain’s support for the Confederacy, so I suppose they were conservative too.
I’ll agree that the Republican party has no credibility on race issues. The only input they have on the matter is arguing to do nothing on race issues. Indeed, to do less than the status quo.
What’s more, the notion that the only people to have suffered from slavery are the slaves themselves is profound insult against us all. That no proper reparations were made at the time of emancipation provided for a culture of poverty and oppression aided and abeted by white men who not only clung to racists views but genuinely profited from the arrangement. The days of sharecropping may be dead, but their economic impact lingers on.
As a white man, I am duty bound to admit that the color of my skin has provided me with opportunities that may not have been available to me had I been a white man. I grew up in a poor, African-American neighborhood, so I know its not because of where I’m from. My family was comfortably lower-middle class, and that’s certainly a leg up, but why is that? My dad was a hard worker who grew up in poverty. I have to believe he had chances to make a better life for himself because he had the right color of skin. I have to believe the same happened with me. Can I point to any individual who specifically helped me because I’m white? No. I doubt much or any of it is conscious, but its there nonetheless. There are pervasive cultural influences in this society which persist. The best I can do is to remain aware of the advantages I’ve received and hope I can do something to ensure those advantages can be enjoyed by all men and women of all racial backgrounds. Do I know how to do it? No. But for the time being, Affirmative Action seems like a good way to level the playing field, if only just a little. Many, much like yourself, prefer to deny racisim than to deal with plain truth in front of their faces. We need to deal with the wrongs of today. Forget slavery. Affirmative Action is dealing with today’s racisim. A racism far more transparent but still very real an very harmful.
And this is from another decendant of Irish and Native American slaves. Just because my ancestors were also wronged is no reason to ignore the wrongs being committed against my human brothers and sisters in this day and age.
It’s not just Republicans who distort what King said, though — the Democrats prefer King as a harmless dead saint. I’ve been part of a group kicked out of an MLK march for carrying signs that quoted King’s speeches against war, for instance. The organizers told us it was inappropriate to use a march to honor Martin Luther King to make a political point.
“Name one African american under the age of 45 that has had to deal with real racism.”
You’re joking, right? No, I know you’re not b/c I deal with people like you at least once a day. They usually add that the only *real* racism is against White people.
Living or Dead? Because I know some who have died because of what you would probably call faux racism? Or it’s-all-in-their-heads racism?
I can name the 17 city workers who were subjected to racist slurs, racist vandelism, human feces smeared on their work vehicles, Black dolls hung in effagy in the workplace, and physical assaults. That was just on the harassment end, they faced the glass ceilings, glass walls and retaliatory actions taken any time they tried to complain about racism in the workplace. They sued. The city’s spent nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to stop them. They’re scheduled for settlement talks for the first time in nine years of court battles.
I can name the two dozen Black students who were arrested and peppersprayed by cops after a white student called one of them an “n—–” and that one threw a punch. The white kids who started the fight and threw punches were allowed to go to class. Four Black students were sent to the hospital with asthma attacks. All of them had to do work programs to be admitted back to school, and their parents had to sign permission slips allowing them to be peppersprayed. Two female students were cavity searched at juvenile hall. One student spent six months in juvy.
I saw the fight and the events leading up to it myself and how the police selectively peppersprayed Black students b/c some student videotaped the whole fight between the “n——s and the jocks” as he called them.
Then there’s apartments who won’t rent to Black people. Banking institutions who won’t give loans to Black customers. Police who racially profile and target Black and Latino people from the time they’re kids.
That’s for starters in one region. If I wrote everything, Amp would be out of band width.
“Would a more fair system would be to calculate what slaves would have earned if they had been paid, and what they would have left to their children when they died, and take that from descendants of slave owners, who inheritated the profits of those slave owners. I’m sure we could find some families who are still benefiting from wealth accumulated from slave labour”
And major corporations who’s survive today b/c people buy their products and stock even though they were engaged in the slave trade and profitted from it.
The slave owners weren’t the sole benficiaries of slave labor though they did benefit greatly, particularly the larger plantations and businesses. However, many businesses in the North for example sold products made from slave labor, for example. People in the North purchased and used those products. Railroad companies especially in the South used slave labor to build them. I guess slavery is something that just happened down THERE, although the northern economy benefitted greatly from slave labor, as well.
That’s a simplistic way of looking at it, b/c this country was built on the backs of slave labor. A lot of what it has today comes from slave labor. This country still uses slave labor today.
Amendment 13: Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The loophole in the amendment “banning” slavery allowed freed slaves to remain slaves for many years after emancipation and the end of the civil war. Immigrants and prison inmates are groups vulnerable to slavery in more modern times.
Back to MLK, jr….I think a major problem with how King, jr. is co-opted by White people of any political stripe is because most of us only know a few lines from one speech, when he wrote and said so much. So it’s hard to put his words chosen from one particular speech, in any form of context. Ask any white person about King, jr. and 9.9 out of 10 times they’ll quote the same two or three lines from “I have a Dream.”
And even when people know, they’ll pick the lines out of speeches which suit their agendas, which is to promote white priviliage as a meritocracy with a tag attached that says, we’re not looking at skin color, just character, lol.
>>”Name one African american under the age of 45 that has had to deal with real racism.”?
You’re joking, right? No, I know you’re not b/c I deal with people like you at least once a day. They usually add that the only *real* racism is against White people.>>
We only have to provide one for you to concede the idiocy of this assertion? Here:
If the link’s dead, check out bitchphd’s blog or Prometheus 6 or Pinko Feminist Hellcat for their summaries.
I think that’s a general problem with any significant historical figure — they’re all liable to be oversimplified, quoted out of context, and so forth.
In King’s case, there’s a specific pattern to the way he’s misquoted and taken out of context: he’s portrayed as a lone martyr for moderation, who never said anything that anyone could actually disagree with. That takes him out of the context of being a leader within a movement, one who’s views shifted over time, and who found himself increasingly at odds with established white liberals.
Luthor = Evil genius opposed to Superman
Luther = Theologian who sparked the Protestant Reformation
MLK was named (partially) after one of these men. I believe you have guessed the wrong one.
Well, I just naturally assumed he was named after the more important one. :-P
(Going to fix, going to fix…)
I always find it hard to judge what MLK “really” said.
Obviously, as that quote from the book shows, he has views which were quite similar to the views in support of AA. OTOH, as far as I know (and my knowledge of MLK is not extensive so I may well be wrong) it seems that he presented a different attitude in his speeches.
This is pretty normal. The attitudes that people take in one setting–written communications, small groups, organizations of like-minded individuals–are often deliberately different from those that they take in a different setting. Nothing wrong with that; it’s just politics.
King was a highly skilled politician and writer, and if he thought his speeches or presentations resulted in inaccurate understanding of his position I have no doubt he’d be easily able to change them. If he chose not to, that is also evidence of his decision.
My own personal guess is that, as with many causes today, King was focusing on the general major issues on multiple fronts, and didn’t have the time to work out every potential conflict between the multiple suggestions for actions. Again, this is perfectly normal for a political movement, and isn’t an implication that King was doing anything wrong.
I tend to believe that King’s major goal was the cessation of overt racism, and that he would have prioritized that above AA, but that he would also have happily asked for and accepted AA-type programs if he thought he could get those as well.
There’s a huge difference from thinking AA is deserved and ideal (a position which I believe King would have supported) and thinking it’s politically wise and feasible. As I said, he was a good politician, and he may well have believed that asking for AA would cause too much difficulty in the larger and more important battle. And who knows, he may have been right: AA continues to be the slot in the gates through which most people attack and become opposed to anti-racist policies.
Sailorman, I don’t mind discussing what MLK meant — on the contrary, I think it should be discussed. Like any writer, King’s works are somewhat subject to interpretation. Nor is there a single, unchanging view of all politics that King held throughout all his writings and speeches; many people who have read his work agree that his emphasis on economic justice grew over the years, for example.
Nonetheless, in my post, I backed up what I was saying with both a historian talking about MLK, and with specific quotes from a cited work by MLK. Unless you do the same, there’s no reason for me to think that your opinion is well-informed.
You have quotes above, which basically come down to the position that King’s writing, taken as a whole, are representative of 1) support for AA, and 2) King’s personal stance.
I have no disagreement with point 1.
I also have no disagreement with point 2.
My point is that King’s PUBLIC stance was different. As for any politician, people’s writings and their public persona are often different. In fact, people’s personal belief and their political stance are often different–politics force a degree of compromise that personal belief need not consider.
Publicly, King tended to push equality a lot, of which the noted speech above is one example. It should be obvious** that in a country where governments practice overt racism, it’s going to be easier to make smaller steps than bigger ones: i.e. it’s easier to persuade folks to accept “neutral” rather than “compensatory non-neutral” actions.
I agree that his writings are supportive of AA. What I can’t tell is whether or not you think that his public speeches–for example, IHAD–are supportive of AA or not. We may not be disagreeing at all.
**I can’t tell if you’re disputing this or not. If so, then it’s not as obvious as I think, and we should discuss it.
It’s obvious from even a facial reading of King that of course he wanted government help for blacks.
What isn’t obvious is what he’d think of things today, and what program he’d advocate.
My way of looking at affirmative action comes from an episode of All in the family. I know that sounds strange, but hear me out.
In the episode Michael(meathead) is up for a promotion to a better job at the University against a black professor who hasn’t been there as long. The University needs more black professors since the majority of the faculty is white. The black professor gets the job despite having worked there a shorter time.
After the black professor leaves the room the principle asks to talk to mike.
He says that civil rights is like a scale(he conveniently has one on his desk.) He puts the scale one way to show years of prejudice and mistreatment and he says that when the scale swings back it is gonna need to swing the other way for awhile before it balances out.
I agree with what the professor says, but the time is approaching when the scale is gonna balance out and everyone is ok with that except people who got too used to the scale swinging their way. Affirmative action was never meant to be permanent and the same ammendment that gave black people freedom from discrimination( the 14th not the 13th that one ended slavery) is going to end affirmative action.
People aren’t racist unless you give them a reason to be(you have to be taught to hate). A college student not being admitted to a collge so a black student with lower test scores can be or a person losing out on a job, so a company can fill its quota gives people a reason.
It isn’t racism in its original incarnation(I am superior to you because your black and I am white), but it is just as effective (Its us against them). It might be even stronger, because this time it is about survival rather than identity this is where you get white people(myself included) panicking that we are losing our country to minorities(true in a small part). As Yoda says fear leads to hate.
Basically it gives people a reason(myself included) to make discriminatory decisions (hire the white lawyer the black lawyer only got into harvard because of affirmative action), or I am gonna do my part for my people and hire the white person.
At a certain point affirmative action hurts the civil rights movement rather than help it. It is time for the scales to balance.
Above, is the only credible statement I can find in this article. That being said, I think it important to note that what made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision so remarkable, is the simple notion that it was comprised of basic ‘truths’ (think in terms of inalienable rights). Now consider, again, the following:
Where human rights are concerned, it does not get much more inalienable than that, and for either side to distort so altruistic an ideal, in order to promote their own agenda, … Is just wrong.
Just as no one should be placed in the back of the line because of the color of their skin, neither should they be placed in the front of that line. This truth is basic. Content of character should be the only determinant. Plain and simple.
I kind of approved that comment mainly because its complete lack of any attempt to address the historical record, while quoting only that one single sentence of MLK, so perfectly illustrated exactly what the original post was talking about.
Oh, and also because I genuinely like it when people revive really old threads.
It is amazing to see what a seamless transition so many ‘conservatives’ made from supporting segregation to opposing affirmative action, supposedly on principles such as those of King. The invariant principle? Whatever it takes to keep minorities from succeeding.