The Content of Their Character
“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.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Aug. 28, 1963
Look up that quote in a search engine and at the top of the list you will not see sites that have a full transcript of the speech, but rather a majority of conservative sites arguing against Affirmative Action.
And quite frankly, I am sick of hearing conservatives use the famous Dr. King quote to attack Affirmative Action. It is a disingenuous and dishonest attack. The right-wing claim is that since it judges people by the color of their skin, it is in itself discriminatory and hypocritical. Here is just one example:
Affirmative action is the 100% polar opposite of King’s dream. Affirmative action judges individuals based only on the color of one’s skin and certainly not by the content of their character, their achievements, qualifications or anything else. Affirmative action is a step backwards by justifying the very racism it was established to thwart.
There is no doubt about it: affirmative action creates discrimination. Those who argue for a color-blind society while supporting affirmative action are presenting a hypocritical belief. It appears that supporters of affirmative action are comfortable with discrimination, provided it is directed towards white men.
The rather glaring flaw in this argument–like in almost all conservative arguments against “Affirmative Action”–is that it completely ignores the constant presence of racial discrimination by whites against minorities. By conveniently disregarding any preexisting racial bias and treating what they call “Affirmative Action” in a vacuum, they make the case that since things such as quotas use ethnicity to decide immediate favor, it is racist and therefore hypocritical coming from those who state that they oppose racial discrimination.
What conservatives ignore, of course, is that quotas (which is what we’re really talking about here, not Affirmative Action; see this post) are a reaction, not an action purely unto themselves. To address a reaction and yet fully ignore the action which prompted it is nonsensical.
Imagine that a conservative Japanese person argued that America was wrong because it attacked Japan during WWII, killing millions of Japanese people and conquering the country. What would an American say in reaction to that? Naturally, the reply would be, “you attacked us.” Taken out of context, an American invasion of Japan seems unjustified. Add the component that the Japanese attacked first, and there’s your justification.
But in the conservative argument against quotas, the initial action is removed from the equation, making it seem unjustified. Additionally, the claim will be made that the liberal ideology precludes the idea of taking action based on ethnicity. This is true only if there is no justification; in the context of quotas, where there is a preexisting discrimination that must be redressed, the conservative claim is utterly false. If that were not the case, then America could have been justifiably criticized for entering WWII.
Dr. King’s statement about his dream of how people should be judged is a hope for the future nature of society free of racism, not for the nature of redress in a society filled with discrimination. King was calling for the end of racial discrimination, not for the end of redress in a discriminatory society. In a society without racial discrimination, quotas would indeed be a wrong thing. Today, they are not.
Recommended reading: Rush, Quotas, and the Discriminatory Double Standard, which explains the nature of Affirmative Action and quotas and their differences, why they are justified, and how they are unfairly attacked.