It’s Martin Luther King Day, and you know what that means: yes, it’s the day when conservatives all over the country get together and tell us that racism isn’t a problem anymore and that if MLK were alive today, he would certainly not countenance any black people talking about how they are treated unfairly.
No, what MLK was all about was color-blindness! Yes, he was only interested in a unified world where everyone behaved exactly like white people. He was not interested in nonsense like affirmative action or restitution for slavery, despite his many public statements to the contrary; even the fact that he wrote an entire book about it shouldn’t sway us into thinking that Dr. King supported anything as crazy as racial quotas or economic compensation in addition to legal equality.
This year, it falls to Paul Greenberg to write the definitive column on the legacy of Dr. King, who apparently, despite his opposition to the Vietnam War, support of democratic socialism, and economic bill of rights that called for a revolutionary change in the way that the government treated the problem of poverty, was a conservative!
Greenberg calls this lifelong liberal activist “the very definition of an American conservative,” and, after quoting the ‘not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’ part of the ‘I have a dream’ speech (which is the only thing MLK ever said that conservatives seem to know anything about), he asks:
Is any passage more frequently cited against the quota system called Affirmative Action?
Well, not by right-wingers, that’s for sure. Anyway, let’s leave Greenberg, and his claims that a man who forty years ago was being denounced by people like him as a dangerous Communist insurrectionist is actually an icon of conservativism, and move on to Big Boy Jammies, where the appropriately-named Michael Weiss puts up another iteration of the argument that the last thing Martin Luther King would have wanted is for people to talk about racism. After approvingly quoting sections of the letter from Birmingham jail that distance King from radical black Muslims, Weiss says, in reference to Barack Obama’s campaign:
How’s that for self-criticism and telling people what they don’t want to hear? And when’s the last time you heard the moral conscience of any movement argue that the middle-class was a hindrance rather than an agent of social progress? Such candor came, moreover, from a man who really might have benefited in the short-term by selling his core principles to purchase a broader coalition of desegregationists. No candidate for high office, whatever the out-group he or she purports to represent, would ever get very far by striking such a “polarizing” chord.
All of which would be highly relevant if King had been running for President, or for any political office at all, which of course he wasn’t. But hey, who cares? It’s not like Obama is really black anyway! Weiss quotes with great admiration the ever-reliable Christopher Hitchens:
Above: actually a white man
We are trying to get over the hideous legacy of slavery and segregation. But Mr. Obama is not a part of this legacy. His father was a citizen of Kenya, an independent African country, and his mother was a “white” American. He is as distant from the real “plantation” as I am. How — unless one thinks obsessively about color while affecting not to do so — does this make him “black”?
Ha ha! Yeah, of course! Because we all know, racism and segregation in America have only to do with the legacy of slavery, and not at all one’s black skin! Most racists would not just look at a black person and decide to discriminate against them; they would first determine if he was an African-American, and thus part of the legacy of slavery, or an African,* in which case there would be no reason whatsoever to discriminate against them. Plus, he’s biracial, and no one has ever discriminated against mixed-race people in America! Thus, presto-change-o, Barack Obama is not black, and therefore has never experienced any racial discrimination, and any attempt by him to engage in ‘identity politics’ is itself shameful racism of the sort that Martin Luther King, were he alive today but thankfully he’s not, would totally condemn. How far we’ve come, Lord, how far!
* If it made even the slightest bit of difference, one might point out that Kenya was not an independent African country during the first 27 years of Barack Obama’s father’s life, and that he spent his entire childhood and teenage years in a British colony that was often brutally oppressed. In fact, Kenya was not even independent when Obama himself was born; it wouldn’t become so until he was 2 years old, and Obama’s father did not return to Kenya until many years after. One might even point out that when he married his white American wife, interracial marriage was still illegal in 22 states. But it’s Hitch we’re talking about, and he’s never been one to let facts get in the way of a nice bit of demagoguery.