Monday, January 15, 2007

Chasing the Dream

Discussing Martin Luther King Jr. I heard an NPR commentator complain about people who "misuse" his words. Her example was the idea that people should be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" being cited with arguments against affirmative action.

I'm not sure what Dr. King would think of affirmative action but I doubt he'd like it. The legislation lowers acceptance standards for people of certain races and necessarily crowds out more qualified people because they literally have the wrong color skin. This is not "positive discrimination;" this is racism.

There is no doubt that these policies are well intended, but that hardly matters. They are disastrous not only because they fail to accomplish what they set out to do, they sow animosity between peoples. This should come as no surprise. When the law elevates one group above another, such preferential treatment always breeds hatred. Growing up under Jim Crow (a more extreme example of inequality to be sure), Dr. King would have been acutely aware of this.

This is why he embraced non-violence. This is why he spoke about togetherness and equality. This is why his dream was "one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood." Affirmative action does not aid that dream.

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