Was Martin Luther King Jr. Fighting for a Colorblind Society?

 

On Martin Luther King Jr. day, we honor the accomplishments of the most recognized civil rights leader in American history. We acknowledge the struggles of black Americans who bled, marched, and protested their treatment by a society which was ostensibly built on the notion that “all men are created equal,” and endowed by our Creator with “unalienable rights” that should be protected by the government. Another way to put it is that these individuals acted as the conscience of the nation, serving as a stark reminder that it was not living up to the values upon which it was founded.

When King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., he declared that he wished to see an America in which black Americans would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Many have taken this remark as an indication that King wished to create a nation in which race, culture, and ethnicity were rendered obsolete, a colorblind society in which nobody “sees” the differences inherent in a mixed community.

It has become a prevailing belief that King wished to see the United States become a nation in which people see themselves only as Americans — and nothing else. Almost like a community in which everyone is the exact same without acknowledging differences in culture. It is this notion that motivates some to tell black Americans that they shouldn’t identify as such. You might hear them say something like, “Why do you even have to mention your race? Just call yourself American!”

But this is not the sentiment that King was expressing.

He was not saying that he did not want white Americans to ignore the fact that he was black, nor was he trying to convince people to believe that culture was somehow irrelevant. He was expressing his desire to see a society in which people did not make value judgments about one another based on skin color and culture.

King wanted an America that does not treat one type of person more harshly than another due to the level of melanin in their skin. Put simply, the issue isn’t whether or not someone sees an individual’s skin color; the issue is how we react when we see it. In a 1968 speech to Memphis sanitation workers, he pointed out the travesty in how problems are framed based on skin color. He said:

“When there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the black community, they call it a social problem. When there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the white community, they call it a depression.”

Of course, given the obsession with race that the progressive left has injected into society, the issue has become even more pronounced. One cannot ignore the fact that many might embrace the idea of colorblindness when the Marxist crowd has sought to gain political and cultural advantages by pretending that racism and white supremacy are rampant in every facet of American society. They seek to use race and culture to divide us. They are working against what King espoused to a degree that they have weaponized the issue in a way that is destroying any chance of realizing his dream.

But the appropriate response to the left’s constant racializing isn’t to retreat into adherence to the flawed notion that we should not see color. Ignoring the fact that America is made up of people of differing backgrounds and cultures is not only impossible, but it is also undesirable. It is similar to the left’s attempts to blur the lines between genders in an effort to make us all the same.

We should not look at differences in the nation’s various subcultures as a negative; instead, we can embrace these differences without using them against one another. As a black American, acknowledging that you are a white/Hispanic/Asian/other American does not diminish the fact that we are still fellow countrymen. I come from a culture that is different from an American who comes from an Irish background, and I see nothing wrong with acknowledging that. Hell, I’ll raise a glass of Guinness with you.

When we promote the colorblind ideal, we are advocating for ignoring parts of ourselves that are integral to our identity. I am not saying that skin color or culture is the only — or even the most important aspects of our identities, but it would be folly to assume that both do not play an essential part in defining who we are.

I see nothing wrong with being proud to be black. I see nothing wrong with being proud to be German. I see nothing wrong with being proud to be Chinese. These notions in and of themselves are not detrimental to creating a better society. Yes, the progressives will always find a way to use our differences to sow resentment between Americans of differing backgrounds. This tendency is written in their political DNA. But this does not mean we need to let them control the narrative. Instead of seeking to erase culture, perhaps we should see, and love one another for who we are.

 

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