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Sadly, I had to cut all the MLK quotes way down to fit this tiny four-panel format. At the end of this post you’ll find more complete quotes, with links to sources.
I wrote this cartoon during one of the periodic surges of conservatives quoting MLK’s “dream” speech – or, more precisely, quoting the one sentence of the speech any of them seem to know: “I have a dream that my four little 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.”
A great quote – but it’s taken out of context by conservatives who argue that it’s wrong to teach that racism is an ongoing problem, one that has been part of the USA from the very beginning. It’s currently being used in service of a nationwide agenda of punishing teachers and professors who teach what right-wingers call “critical race theory.”
The observation that many things MLK said would be sneered at as “critical race theory” by today’s conservatives is not original to me. I’ve seen the same observation made by a lot of people, including Dr. Mansa Keita, Sam Hoadley-Brill, Don Hasan, Tema Smith, Liam Hogan, Joshua Adams, MLK’s son MLK III, and MLK’ s daughter Dr. Bernice King.
My rendering of the school building in panel one isn’t great – but it’s serviceable, and it was a great deal of fun for me to draw. I am definitely a convert to Clip Studio Paint and its perspective-drawing tools. I could have drawn a more realistic school building by tracing, but with Clip Studio I could draw it from scratch – and I think the result, while less realistic, is a better fit with the cartoon’s drawing style.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels, plus an additional tiny “kicker” panel below the bottom of the cartoon.
The cartoon shows two people talking outside what looks like a school building. One of the people is a Black man, bald on top and chubby and wearing glasses, a shirt and a tie – he looks like he could be a school principal. The other person is a white woman, wearing a sweater-vest and a patterned skirt, with her hair in a pony tail. She’s carrying a protest sign that says “Teach MLK not CRT.”
Sweatervest holds out a little booklet to Necktie. She looks angry, he looks unsure.
SWEATERVEST: Look at these quotes from your school’s assigned readings! This trash teaches white kids to hate themselves. Martin Luther King would never teach this!
NECKTIE: Okay, let me take a look…
Necktie bends over the booklet a little, reading aloud. Sweatervest screams in anger.
NECKTIE: “White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism… The White Man’s Police are the ultimate mockery of law… America is a racist country.”
SWEATERVEST: See? See? They’re teaching our kids to hate white people, cops and America!
A close-up of Sweatervest, her lips drawn back in anger, as Necktie continues reading aloud from off-panel.
NECKTIE: “The roots of racism are very deep in our country… The doctrine of white supremacy was imbedded in every textbook… It became a structural part of the culture.”
SWEATERVEST: “Roots of racism!” “Structural racism!” It’s all so hateful! Why not teach what MLK said? “Judge by the content of their character….”
Looking puzzled, Necktie points to something in the booklet. Angrier than ever, Sweatervest leans forward to yell.
NECKTIE: But these quotes are all from Dr. King.
SWEATERVEST: And I’m sure he feels just sick about that!
TINY KICKER PANEL UNDER THE CARTOON
This small black-and-white panel shows a smiling Sweatervest looking proud, holding a hand on her chest, while Necktie reads another passage aloud from the booklet.
SWEATERVEST: I don’t need to read MLK’s writings! “I had a dream” is all I need to know!
NECKTIE: Here’s another MLK quote: “White people believe that they have so little to learn.”
SOURCES FOR THIS CARTOON
To fit all these quotes into a tiny four panel format, I had to cut them way down, which frankly I feel bad about. Here are the fuller quotes, with links to the sources:
“If the Negro needs social sciences for direction and for self-understanding, the white society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject.”
“When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also demand that the white man abide by law in the ghettos. Day-in and day-out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; and he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them but do not make them any more than a prisoner makes a prison. Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man.”
–Martin Luther King Jr., in his speech “The Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement”
“However difficult it is to hear, however shocking it is to hear, we’ve got to face the fact that America is a racist country. W e have got to face the fact that racism still occupies the throne of our nation. I don’t think we will ultimately solve the problem of racial injustice until this is recognized, and until this is worked on.”
—Live Q&A with Martin Luther King Jr. at the sixty-eighth annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, March 25, 1968.
“It lies in the ‘congenital deformity’ of racism that has crippled the nation from its inception. The roots of racism are very deep in America. Historically it was so acceptable in the national life that today it still only lightly burdens the conscience. No one surveying the moral landscape of our can overlook the hideous and pathetic wreckage of commitment twisted and turned to a thousand shapes under the stress of prejudice and irrationality.”
“Soon the doctrine of white supremacy was imbedded in every textbook and preached in practically every pulpit. It became a structural part of the culture. And men then embraced this philosophy, not as the rationalization of a lie, but as the expression of a final truth.”
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans.”
–Martin Luther King Jr., in his book Where Do We Go From Here
This cartoon on Patreon.