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.