MLK Essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Chronicle of Higher Education has an essay on Martin Luther King, Jr., this week, emphasizing that King was not only antidiscrimination but also antiwar, anticapitalist, etc. All true, but of course these points have been made in the past not only by Jesse Jackson but also by Jesse Helms.
But I’d like to raise a different issue. Early on the essay notes that even conservatives revere King: “While dismantling affirmative action, a policy King advocated, they cite King’s aspiration that Americans be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Two points: First, I see it frequently asserted that King endorsed affirmative action. I’m not an expert on everything that King wrote and said, but the only place I’m aware of where King came close to endorsing racial preferences is in his book Why We Can’t Wait, and that endorsement is ambiguous and can be read as favoring class-based rather than race-based affirmative action. Second, even if it is true that at some point King endorsed racial preferences, it would not follow that there is anything wrong with conservatives (and anyone else) citing his “I Have a Dream” speech’s declaration of the broader ideal of colorblind justice — just as there was nothing wrong with Lincoln citing the Declaration of Independence’s ideal of equality notwithstanding that document’s authorship by a slaveowner.