Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday created to honor one of this country’s most important figures.
Dr. King worked to heal the country of its chronic illnesses of segregation and racial discrimination. His successors prefer to keep the body politic sick, often by fighting for some of the things he fought against.
They have betrayed his legacy.
Dr. King lived his life working to make America’s deeds live up to its creeds, whether by reciting parables from the Bible or quoting our founding documents. He spoke boldly about the immorality and hypocrisy of a nation founded on the equality of all men legalizing and normalizing the subjugation of some men based on skin color. His successors have adopted a much different agenda.
Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton share Dr. King’s roots in a church tradition that has always seen social activism and moral formation as intertwined.
They should have continued to fight against the things that hold black people back from fully reaping the benefits of a free and open society. Good leaders adapt to the times, so those fights might have been over public policy or self-destructive cultural practices.
Instead, they turned the civil rights movement into the racial grievance industry.
Subsequent generations have continued the downward trajectory. The movement used to be powered by people who believed in equality under the law. They fought so that skin color would not be a barrier to opportunities.
Now the movement is powered by people inking lucrative book deals and collecting millions in donations from middle-class black people, guilty white people, and Big Tech CEOs.
The worst part of this transformation isn’t the fact that activists have gotten rich; it’s that their ideas only improve their lives, not ours. They have a perverse incentive to paint America as a hopelessly racist country.
That is why I can’t imagine that someone like Dr. King, who fought so hard against racial injustice, would support Ibram X. Kendi’s belief that the only way to remedy past discrimination is present discrimination and the only way to remedy present discrimination is future discrimination.
I also can’t imagine that a man who was killed in the midst of organizing a multiracial “Poor People’s Campaign” would subscribe to characterizing black millionaires and billionaires as “oppressed” while berating white store clerks in Eastern Kentucky for their “privilege.”
Perhaps the most important difference between King and the leading social justice movements today is the foundation upon which their respective movements are built. King and his peers grounded their civil rights work in the Christian scriptures. Today’s activists have a very different foundation.
The women who started the Black Lives Matter organization are self-described Marxists whose guiding principles never mention God and whose protest movement is not connected in any way to the church.
This doesn’t mean they don’t have spiritual roots. Patrisse Cullors, one of BLM’s co-founders, said the following in reference to calling out the names of victims at protests:
“It is literally almost resurrecting a spirit so they can work through us to get the work that we need to get done.”
BLM is built on Marxist views of class conflict and the belief that the material world is all that matters. Its adherents don’t seek to answer the deep questions of right and wrong or good and evil. They speak in the language of resources and wealth, goods and equity.
King and his Christian followers had a belief in God that gave them hope. They believed love could overcome hatred. Today’s activists seem to be filled with anger and despair. They threaten violence when they feel they’ve been denied justice.
King’s activism produced optimism; BLM’s activism produces nihilism.
This is why it is so rare to find a happy radical.
Dr. King also differs from today’s activists because of his willingness to apply the same moral standards and loving critiques to African-Americans as to white people.
After committing to banishing discrimination and segregation from every aspect of American life, Dr. King said the following in a 1957 speech in Birmingham:
“And another thing, my friends, we kill each other too much. We cut up each other too much. There is something that we can do. We’ve got to go down in the quiet hour and think about this thing. We’ve got to lift our moral standards at every hand, at every point. You may not have a Ph.D. degree; you may not have an M.A. degree; you may not have an A.B. degree. But the great thing about life is that any man can be good, and honest, and ethical, and moral, and can have character.”
Black Democratic politicians, pundits, activists, and academics today would say this type of rhetoric promotes what they derisively call “respectability politics,” but Dr. King knew that you can’t demand someone treat you as priceless when you treat yourself as worthless.
Another lesson today’s activists should have learned from Dr. King is that the rejection of moderation often leads to more radicalism.
Is it any surprise that the Black Panthers would choose a more radical path after seeing the well-dressed, dignified black Christians marching for equal access to the ballot box and lunch counter met with police dogs and water hoses?
We are in danger of repeating that mistake.
The left thinks white Americans have benefited from centuries of unearned privilege, and they want to even the score. They work tirelessly — and pay Robin DiAngelo handsomely — to activate the racial consciousness of every white person in the country, whether their ancestors came here on the Mayflower or emigrated recently from Finland. Then they make white people the only racial group who can be attacked publicly.
The Daily Beast declares, “You Damn Karens Are Killing America.”
CNN claims, “There's nothing more frightening in America today than an angry White man.”
The Root publishes a race tutorial on the “5 Types of ‘Becky.’”
White liberals love these types of headlines because they are burdened by race guilt. Their public self-flagellation is a purifying religious ritual. It grants them absolution from the sins of their ancestors and puts distance between themselves and the white people who are still ritually unclean.
But what does the left think comes next when they call every Republican – whether black or white – a white supremacist? They are summoning demons they will not be able to control.
Ethnic conflict and hatred are the rule, not exception, across human history. Wise leaders would heed this universal lesson, look to the past to show how far we have come as a nation, and correct course to avoid a future filled with tribal warfare.
Foolish leaders would continue to inflame racial tensions to further their political goals by explicitly apportioning government resources and cultural capital by race.
It is clear which types of leaders we have today. Our elected officials and leading race scribes think that discrimination under the guise of equity is progress. They are committing the ultimate act of betrayal of Dr. King’s legacy.
Our country has come very far. Unfortunately, the civil rights activists who lay claim to his mantle have fallen just as far. The NAACP of King’s day filed lawsuits to overturn Jim Crow laws across the South. Today’s NAACP fights to overturn pro-life laws in Texas.
The brightest minds of King’s generation worked tirelessly to push legislation that gave black people equality under the law. Now Michael Eric Dyson accuses black conservatives of being mouthpieces for white supremacy and Ben Crump rejoices because the term “master bedroom” is no longer used in real estate listings.
Both men claim America has failed to live up to Dr. King’s dream, but in reality they are the ones who betrayed his vision for the country.
This desperation is a sign that the demand for racism far exceeds the supply. That is a testament to the progress we have made on the issue of race.
Dr. King knew that racial discrimination was completely incompatible with biblical justice or America’s founding principles. He gave his life to eradicate racial hatred in pursuit of a better country for his children and grandchildren.
We are faced with the same task today. We have new challenges that he could never imagine, but we should heed his call to see our common humanity as more important than our skin color.If we don’t, King’s dream will give way to a new national nightmare.