Ethics Alarms has posted several paeans to the iconic civil rights leader on his “day” is the past, but it is time—past time, really—for a more rueful and honest assessment of his legacy. No one can (or should, anyway) deny King’s crucial role in eliminating segregation in the United States, killing Jim Crow, and prompting long-overdue legal and cultural reforms, epitomized by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. King’s words have continued to inspire while serving as guideposts for the nation’s journey, still infuriatingly incomplete, to a society where citizens are judged “by the content of their character” rather than the color of their skin. But in 2021, a celebration of King and his legacy seem particularly hypocritical. His alleged followers have transitioned to a cynical strategy of encouraging a national mentality that accepts that the color of an American’s skin defines the content of their character, or to put it another way, that race is the most important feature, factor and consideration in American life.
This is a perversion of what Dr. King stood for, but that is the status of his legacy today. Most of what I mention in this post is old news that we have discussed before, but there are, as there now are virtually every day, additional examples of this corrosive use of race to divide and corrupt society. In this morning’s New York Times Arts section, for example, an article headlined “Bringing on New Leaders For Diversity In The Arts” told us that “cultural institutions around the country are hiring their own diversity officers to increase the number of people of color on the staff and board, broaden their programming and address a widely acknowledged pattern of systemic racism.” Translated, all this statement means is that, cowed by routine accusations of racism, arts groups are substituting one undeniable system of racism for an unproven one. People are being hired and appointed because of their skin color alone, or certainly over all other reasons. This is not, of course, restricted to the arts. The idea that skin-shade equals talent and virtue has been embodied at the very top of our government. The soon-to-be official Vice-President of the United States is in that position solely because she is “of color” as well as female. Her character, ability, experience and accomplishments have nothing to do with the responsibility and high office handed to her: she was roundly rejected by the members of the public who belong to her party when running on the basis of those factors. “Diversity” is a cover-word for discrimination. Dr. King was not asking for quotas in his protests, speeches and marches: he was demanding that blacks like him be given the opportunity to succeed on the same basis as whites, judged, rewarded and advanced without regard to their race.
“Diversity”—Full disclosure: I’ve taught diversity training sessions, and then finally stopped after deciding that it was a destructive, hypocritical con—has become a tool of acquiring power, and an effective one. It is also a justification for discriminating against better qualified, more talented, more deserving candidates for jobs, appointments and elite educational opportunities if they happen to be…the “wrong” color. Last week, it was revealed that NFL’s Los Angeles Rams will get an extra draft pick in each of the next two NFL drafts under a new rule. In November, the league’s 32 owners approved a resolution that called for teams to be rewarded any time a minority member of their organization was hired away by another team to be either a head coach or a general manager . The idea behind the new rule was to encourage teams to hire more minority coaches and executives and develop them to the point that they become desirable for other teams to recruit. This incentive obviously is a special impediment to the careers of white members of the organization, embodying the unethical principle of punishing innocent human beings for misconduct they had no hand in. The rationalization for this is “white privilege,” the racist presumption, convenient for advocates of “diversity,” that all members of the white race benefit from the evils of racism, and thus have earned such roadblocks and penalties.
While Dr. King was fighting actual racism, his current legacy is built on the presumption of racism, false narratives, rhetorical tricks and double standards. In the same article linked above, we are told about a “heightened sense of urgency amid the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.” Black Lives Matter was launched on the twin lies that black teen Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered because of his race, and that Michael Brown was assassinated by a racist cop. Both episodes proved to be falsely reported, but never mind: these were lies that activists wanted to believe, so they spread them still. After devising a clever name that doubles as a slogan that no one could safely deny (“Of COURSE black lives matter!”) the group used the presumption of racism to turn every example of a black citizen being shot or killed while resisting arrest as proof of systemic racism, racist cops, and universal white animus against minorities.
The “rise” of Black Lives Matter has been a matter of political expediency, institutional cowardice, and passive tolerance of intimidation and hypocrisy. “Black Lives Matter” is anointed as aspirational and just, though it presumes the racism of white society and white individuals—race libel—while equivalent sentiments like “All Lives Matter,’ White Lives Matter” and “It’s OK To be White” have been condemned as racist and redolent of white supremacy. San Francisco’s KPIX-TV reported that police in Union City, near Oakland,took down a banner over the weekend that read “White Lives Matter.” Law enforcement conducted an investigation into the banner, but concluded that no crime had been committed, the report said. Gee, they figured that out all by themselves! In D.C., the mayor directed that “Black Lives Matter” be painted in huge block letters on a public street. That’s a screaming double standard, and one that exacerbates racial distrust and division.
“The city is disgusted by this despicable act of vandalism that has occurred on the heels of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week and on the weekend of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday that celebrates the life and achievements of this important civil rights leader,” the Union’s officials said, and promised to “remain on heightened alert to make sure racist incidences like this do not happen again in our community.” Wait, white lives don’t matter? Why doesn’t the same trick BLM use to justify their race-based slogan work for whites?
“The killing of George Floyd” is also a presumed racism myth that I see repeated in multiple news stories every day. There is no evidence that George Floyd was killed because of his race, and the news media has been searching hard. The brutality of Officer Chauvin is being attributed to racism because Floyd was black. The same is true of the shooting of Jacob Blake, and the death of Breonna Taylor. The content of the character of each of these victims was far from sterling: their criminal activities are the reason they were in conflict with law enforcement. But contrary to King’s dream, all that matters to his civil rights activist successors is the color of their skin. George Floyd is a particularly weak case, for it is not at all certain that he was “killed” by the knee on his neck. But at this time, on this Martin Luther King Day, facts don’t matter.
The legacy of Dr. King on this Martin Luther King Day is the use of Critical Race Theory to create racial hate in schools and in workplace trainings. It is the active discrimination against Asian American (and white) students by colleges and universities. It is the refusal of news organizations to fire incompetent, unprofessional and racially biased African-American pundits and reporters, like Charles M. Blow, Don Lemon, Joy Reid, and Al Sharpton. It is the direct and open racial discrimination in public policy, as signaled by this recent tweet by the President Elect:
The markers of the black community’s character content are not encouraging. A disproportionate number of crimes are committed by blacks, though it has been pronounced racist to say so. The disproportionate number of U.S. prisoners that are also African-American is now also explained by the presumption of racism, though a the rate of more than 70% black births occurring without the benefit of two-parent families would seem to be relevant as well. The impulse to blame all failures, disappointments and misfortunes on white racism has been an ideal way for black Americans to avoid personal responsibility while demanding constant and apparently eternal special treatment: this is directly counter to what Dr. King sought as the way to equality. Though King said “It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of high maturity, to rise to the level of self-criticism,” his race in the U.S. has gone backwards in that respect. Self-criticism is virtually unheard of, and criticism from outside the race is invariably decried as racist.
Racial division is arguably as severe now as it was when King started his crusade. I don’t see where the nation goes from here, but I don’t see the leadership to reverse the trend, and Black Lives Matter certainly isn’t the solution. Neither is grovelling to Black Lives Matter, the current gutless and unprincipled fad.
Happy Martin Luther King Day.