A key component of the racial tribalism of critical race theory is the conviction that color blindness or not thinking about identity politics all the time is a form of whiteness.
Only white people, racialists insist, don’t think about race.
Naturally, Martin Luther King Jr’s famous quote, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” is a particularly pernicious form of whiteness.
Or as one editorialist argues, “Republicans wield Dr. King’s words as weapons of whiteness” when defending the racist tribalism of critical race theory.
They cherry-pick quotes from Dr. King and distort his positions in general, but there’s no mistaking their favorite. You know the one I’m talking about. “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.”
You should be highly suspicious of anyone whose commentary on racial matters is predicated on or reducible to an ahistorical, decontextualized and cynical recitation of the second half of one sentence from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
It’s the racialists attacking the quote who are actually ahistorical, decontextualized, and cynical.
MLK was fairly consistent about what he meant. And what he meant is 180 degrees away from revisionist efforts like this and 90 degrees away from what most people think he meant.
“We must set out to do a good job, irrespective of race, and do it so well that nobody could do it better,” he had argued. That message sharply contradicts the sinecures of affirmative action and it also goes to the heart of why he advocated a color blind society and why leftists oppose it.
His argument to black people differed from his message in the much more public forum of the Lincoln Memorial in that it offered racial color blindness as the only true source of racial pride.
King’s version of identity politics demanded color blindness because he did not set out to fight for permanent victimhood with all the privileges of a political plantation, but for accomplishment. Only racial color blindness would allow black people to accomplish and achieve without being held back or pandered to, and to know that they could be as good as anyone else in America.
And this is where many white liberals misunderstood King’s dream of a world where people would, “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” It was not a vision of some distant future, but a reality in the present day awakened by the civil rights movement. Color blindness was not dependent on some distant future where every vestige of racism would disappear: it was a passionate moral response to racism in the here and now.
“Through the forces of history something happened to the Negro,” King declared. “He came to feel that he was somebody. He came to feel that the important thing about a man is not the color of his skin or the texture of his hair, but the texture and quality of his soul. With this new sense of dignity and new self-respect a new Negro emerged.”
Color blindness did not mean refusing to recognize the existence of race, but refusing to put color ahead of character. An obsession with race was the mark of the “segregator” and the “segregated” suffering from a “false sense of superiority” or a “false sense of inferiority”.
Liberation meant being free of racism and of measuring yourself by your race.
King’s message was that black people would be in the vanguard of a colorblind society. They had endured the oppression of segregation and that had allowed them to recognize the falsity of identity politics, the obsession with race over character, and surface over substance. Theirs was a journey whose religion, the search for soul, preceded the political, the search for power.
Today that seems like a grim joke when civil rights is weaponized to enforce segregation and racial hatred is perpetuated to serve the Left.
But that is what MLK meant and it was not so unusual in the civil rights messages of the time. Those ideas have largely been erased and replaced with defeatist victimhood and permanent racial anger as a mandate for totalitarianism.