Teach MLK Not CRT

I make a living drawing cartoons because of lots of people pledging small amounts to my Patreon. $1 or $2 helps a lot!

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.



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!


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.”


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

And finally, a “Teach MLK Not CRT” sign was reported by Learner Liu in the far-right newspaper Epoch Times,  and then quoted by social justice activist Arnie Alpert at InDepthNH.org.

This cartoon on Patreon.

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics, Race, racism and related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

17 Responses to Teach MLK Not CRT

  1. 1
    Jeremy says:

    Minor note Martin Luther King III is Dr. King’s son not grandson.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    Oops! Thank you for catching that.

  3. 3
    Polaris says:

    Never had CRT never needed it. Chances are that kids have more use for being taught first aid or swimming.

  4. 4
    Görkem says:

    “Chances are that kids have more use for being taught first aid or swimming.”

    Right, because that’s the choice.

  5. 5
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:


    I regret that I cannot swim because, instead, my school system taught an academic legal theory to us in K – 12 instead of teaching either swimming or first aid. As a result of this absurd choice my career has been limited to entry level fast food industry employment. Oh, the missed opportunity!

  6. 6
    Polaris says:

    Right, because that’s the choice.

    + X hours of CRT also equals – X hours from something else.
    Of course it could be something else like say music, math, arts, chemistry, sports, ect.

  7. 7
    Kate says:

    + X hours of CRT also equals – X hours from something else.
    Of course it could be something else like say music, math, arts, chemistry, sports, ect.

    No, racism permeates all of these subjects. It impacts what questions we ask, what we prioritize, whose work we study… acknowledgement and analysis of racism is not separate. This is not a zero sum game. To take your first two examples…

    Never had CRT never needed it. Chances are that kids have more use for being taught first aid or swimming.

    Discussion of bias and cultural differences should be part of any first aid course. A shocking number of people believe racist myths, like black people don’t feel pain as much as white people. Those things need to be addressed in first aid classes.
    Where I come from, you need to live in a pretty well off school district to have a school swimming pool Due to a combination of poverty and the history of excluding black people from public swimming pools and beaches, to this day black people are significantly less likely to know how to swim than white people are. http://www.stonewallfitness.com/sports-diversity/why-cant-black-people-swim-confronting-systematic-racism-in-swimming
    So, while you didn’t need CRT (which is an academic legal theory), you did, and do, need more education on racism.

  8. 8
    Mandolin says:

    I never got taught CRT, swimming, or first aid!

    But damn did I spend a lot of time trying to avoid compulsory school rally assemblies.

  9. 9
    Mandolin says:

    I mean, look. School is not a “do the most practical thing possible” game. (Even if it were, my understanding of race and social dynamics has been superlatively useful to me, even though I got it in college). It’s a mix of things, including “practical,” “know how the government works so you can operate as a citizen,” and “understand the world around you.”

    I don’t use calculus. I don’t recite monologues. I do use knowledge of Greek history and mythology on a regular basis, but I don’t think most people do. I use French sometimes because I like it, but it is not deeply useful for me to be able to recite “Le Dormeur du Val” with proper pronunciation. If you work a lot with words, it’s useful to know how to diagram a se ntence (which I know despite it having been essentially wiped from the curriculum by the time I went to school, an absence which I was constantly hearing adults lament over), but if you don’t work a lot with words, it’s not that important.

    It matters little to my daily existence that, at one point, I could label a map of Africa with all the countries and their capitals–or even that I can label a map of the United States with all the states and theirs. I really, really don’t use a circular saw to make random wooden objects and then spend hours sandpapering them to smoothness. To be honest, it would make approximately zero difference to the nitty gritty of my daily life if I didn’t know the names of any of the founding fathers.

    You get indirect benefits from these things. Reciting dramatic monlogues may be a little used skill, but speaking in public–which uses many of the same techniques–is something many people have to do. I don’t need to know Thomas Jefferson’s name, but when I run into someone trying to make an essentialist argument based on his opinions, it gives me a way to understand and respond to that argument. Knowing French grammar gives me a perspective on English grammar which, as a native speaker, I am less likely to view unprompted with an overtly analytical eye. Being able to write a five paragraph essay is of limited utility outside the academic setting, but the rhetorical skills developed therein are useful for dissecting the reasons why someone’s argument is poorly constructed.

    Students are already learning history. We’re talking about ways in which they might look at that history differently. Frankly, I think we should center colonialism much more strongly than we do as it’s key to international politics in a way that I didn’t understand until college. There are always going to be arguments about framing the knowledge we impart. Unless your proposal is to get rid of everything that deals with past or current events, this particular complaint is irrelevant.

    Anyway, we should clearly be teaching more science fiction and graphic novels to increase book sales. :P

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    No one is “teaching CRT” in any classes outside of college (except maybe in some wealthy high schools that teach some college-level electives).

    This is really an argument about the implicit values that are inevitably taught in school. Here’s a good article about it:

    The Hidden Curriculum of Critical Race Theory | by Roderick Graham | Age of Awareness | Aug, 2021 | Medium

    I think parents believe that critical race theory is teaching children to be critical of themselves as white people, and critical of the country they hold dear. The critical, in critical race theory, is aimed squarely at them.

    It doesn’t matter what specific concept is brought forth in a classroom or how useful it is in explaining racism. What matters is that Timmy is being taught that white people have done something wrong, and that America has done something wrong.

    Parents are not expressing their concerns in this way. Their voiced concerns stay at the level of “critical race theory.” But to me, this deeper cultural explanation is the one that makes sense of the fact that they cling to a belief that CRT is being taught when everyone associated with the educational system is telling them that it is not.

  11. 11
    annqueue says:

    Well said and good quote, Amp. I saw in Germany that students are taught about the choices and mistakes their country made. People lacked the hubris that some US citizens have because they were aware these choices and mistakes were possible and had in fact happened in their own history. (These are massive generalizations, of course, but I’m speaking about general trends.)

  12. 12
    Görkem says:

    “+ X hours of CRT also equals – X hours from something else.”

    Yes but teaching CRT is part of teaching social studies and history.

    It’s not like schools are dropping physical education or first aid classes in order to teach CRT-specific classes (Or is that what they are saying in the Trumposphere now? I may not be entirely up to date). They’re just adding material about race into classes about American history and culture.

    I am now going to stoop to your rhetorical level and say “Are you AGAINST TEACHING AMERICAN HISTORY?”. Feel free not to answer, but I will assume that this is because you ran away in fear of the power of my argument.

  13. 13
    Schroeder4213 says:

    I first heard about Critical Race Theory when I signed up for a Critical Race Theory class in law school because the description sounded interesting and I liked the professor teaching it when she taught Employment Discrimination.

    It has literally never occurred to me until reading Amp’s comment that people thought the “Critical” in “Critical Race Theory” meant “critical” in the sense of “being critical of someone.” That is sad but funny!

    This debate is so annoying because there’s so much bad faith on the elite Republican side and so much confusion on all sides.

    It’s true that no one is teaching Critical Race Theory in high school. But I would expect and hope that they are teaching ideas derived from Critical Race Theory (like disparate impact) in high school.

    One of the things that is so frustrating is that a lot of stuff Republicans object to is not, in fact, related to CRT and is indeed bad but some of it is related to CRT (and they’re mostly wrong to object to its being taught). But everything’s all lumped together so it’s hard to separate out what’s “not CRT and good,” “is CRT and good,” “not CRT and bad,” and “is CRT and bad.”

  14. 14
    Görkem says:

    @Schroder: The Republican discourse is very meme-ified at this point. “Cultural Marxism” is a meme. It’s also an actual sociological theory, but the relationship between the meme and the thing is about as close as the relationship between the doge meme and actual Akita dogs.

  15. 15
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    But I would expect and hope that they are teaching ideas derived from Critical Race Theory (like disparate impact) in high school.

    I would be shocked if they were teaching things like that in even 5% of high schools.

  16. 16
    Schroeder4213 says:

    @Jacqueline: Maybe not, but I definitely think juniors and seniors could handle it (and should be required to learn about it), because it’s an important part of what they call “social studies.”

  17. 17
    Görkem says:

    @Schroeder: I think Jacqueline would be shocked in a -positive- way.