Co-opting King for a ‘colorblind’ agenda

Mille Lacs Messenger, Jan. 26, 2011

As usual, the phrase was all over the airwaves and newspapers during the weekend of the holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr: “Dr. King’s dream of a colorblind society.”

Sounds good. Most of us share that dream. Trouble is, the phrase “colorblind society” was never used by King, but it’s a code used by those who want to gut King’s legacy and maintain the separate and unequal status quo.
The “colorblind” crowd base their co-option of King on a line from his most famous speech: “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.”
That doesn’t say his kids will no longer be seen as dark-skinned or see themselves as African-Americans; all it says is that they won’t be judged by color, but by character. That’s not colorblindness; that’s justice, and that was King’s true message.
Justice involves looking at the realities of race and attempting to right the wrongs of the past in order to make the present playing field more level.
Sadly, conservatives use the “colorblind” dream to argue against laws that attempt to equalize opportunity — laws that King supported and died for.
Sure, King might hope that someday those laws would be unnecessary, as we all do, but if he were alive today, he’d still see it as a dream, not a policy.
Saying the “Constitution is colorblind” and “laws should be colorblind” ignores the fact that the Constitution and the laws were racist and sexist for more than a century, resulting in an accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of white men.
Consider this, too: If the Constitution and laws are colorblind, they must also be blind to age, gender, sexual orientation, disability and veteran status. No preferences. Period.
If you want to oppose preferences or affirmative action programs, that’s fine, but be consistent, and don’t pretend you’re on King’s side if you do. You’re not.
White folks want things to be simple. Make the laws equal now, and be done with it. All this race talk is annoying. Trouble is, we white boys had a 200-year head start, and we’re still holding an impressive lead.
These are generalities, of course. There are millions of poor white folks who don’t have opportunities equal to their wealthy brothers and sisters, and millions of middle class and upper class minorities whose opportunities have surpassed those of many whites. On the whole, however, being born white is still a big advantage in the U.S.
Look at the embarrassing realities of the achievement gap in Minnesota schools for a little evidence that King’s dream is still a long way off. Look at prison populations, poverty, and the pale faces in Congress and state Legislatures for more evidence.
The fact is that the advocates of “colorblindness” are far from colorblind themselves. They know very well that if other races are going to get a piece of the pie that is representative of their numbers, someone else’s piece of the pie is going to get smaller.
That’s why they keep going on about “colorblindness” and accusing liberals and minorities of “reverse racism” — pretending King would be on their side when he wouldn’t.
They want to maintain their advantage, but in a society where “justice rolls down like waters,” that can’t happen. As King said of the prophet Amos, who spoke those words: “He was seeking not consensus but the cleansing action of revolutionary change.” Those are not the words of a conservative.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.

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