MLK, Jr., and the American Dream

“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.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last year tomorrow, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed, “King was a critical race theorist before there was a name for it,” by Kimberlee Crenshaw, an originator of the notion of “intersectionality.” I don’t like to speak for dead men, but I can say with confidence that King not only would have rejected the methods of Antifa and Black Lives Matter, but he would have rejected the theory upon which their actions are rationalized, namely critical race theory (CRT).

Black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) addresses crowds during the March On Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, where he gave his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.

I say this because King understood riots and rebellions even if he disagreed with violent action. But, while there was an explanation for blacks taking up violent action in the 1950s and 1960s, that explanation is no longer viable.

Except for affirmative action and other reparations programs and projects, except for the custodial state overseen by progressives, these enabled by black collaboration, there is no systemic racism in America. But for progressives, we’d have arrived or had in plain sight by now the colorblind society of King’s dream. Problems remain because elites still find useful the tactic of racial divisioning to maintain class power and to cover for the transnationalist project.

In his celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King asked when the “devotees of civil rights” will be satisfied? He then articulated a list of problems.

“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” As the scientific research makes clear, an extensive period of reform mobilized by the civil rights agenda finds that the criminal justice system, yes, including the police, hasn’t been racist for decades.

“We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities,” said King. “We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: ‘for whites only’.”

The 1964 Civil Rights Act ended racial segregation everywhere. Today, blacks are served in all places of public accommodation. The offensive signs were taking down long ago. White privilege was erased. Racism against blacks made illegal.

King told the throng gathered in Washington, “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. Today, blacks in Mississippi can go the polls and vote. This is true everywhere.

The problem of blacks having nothing to vote for remains. This is a problem for ordinary whites, as well. For blacks, this problem is rooted in the fact that progressives are determined to keep America from realizing King’s dream—and they confuse and mobilize discontented youth to this end. Our youth are taught that the racial politics of woke progressivism is the extension of King’s teachings. This is a lie.

What King understood as the core problems facing all of humanity regardless of race—capitalism, imperialism, and militarism—remain unaddressed. More than this, progressives rationalize the corporate state agenda using the rhetoric of social justice. Put another way, they advance the agenda because it perpetuates the positions they manufacture for self-aggrandizement and enrichment. Where racial inequality and injustice remain, it is the work of progressives.

In King’s list was this item: “We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.” As Brown University economist Glenn Lowry told his audience in conversation with Columbia linguist John McWhorter just last year, it is progressives who have ruined American cities and kept blacks in their ghettos. It is capitalist globalization and social welfare programs, designed and pushed by progressives, that have idled black workers and undermined the black family. Blacks are limited by a custodial state apparatus constructed and defended by the very people who claim to care about the interests of black people—the same political party that served the interests of the slavocracy in the nineteenth century.

I prefer the social justice warriors who reject King’s legacy and method to those who repurpose his rhetoric. At least they’re honest. They’re still wrong, of course. Worse, their ideology, wrapped in Orwellian inversions, is itself racist and regressive. And they have corporate state power and the professional-managerial class in back of them.

This not a movement but a counter movement—and it’s left wing in neither the classical liberal nor socialist sense. The modern American conservative has a more profound grasp of King’s goals and method than does the progressive. At least they identify with King’s goals and method.

Martin Luther King, Jr., declared in his great speech that “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” This won’t occur until progressivism is dislodged from our institutions and the nation returns to the American Creed that animated King’s vision of a colorblind society.

How do I know this? Because King, standing before the memorial statue of Lincoln, facing the Washington Monument, reminded us of Jefferson’s words in booming tones. “So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’.”

Born in the early-1960s South and raised by civil rights and antiwar activists, Andrew Austin has pursued the study of race and ethnic relations his entire life, cumulating in a PhD focused on the question of racial justice, with a focus on the criminal justice system, and a tenured university position where he teaches and researches the problem of racism in American history. See, for example, his essay, “Explanation and Responsibility: Agency and Motive in Lynching and Genocide,” published in the Journal of Black Studies.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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