We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…
Thomas Jefferson, et al, the Declaration of Independence, 1776
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., “I have a dream” speech, 1963
You will hear commentators bloviating galore on this fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech at the Washington Mall about how his dream has not yet been realized. And of course it hasn’t, but not for the Trayvon Martin verdict, or for the recent Supreme Court decision striking down an archaic portion of the Voting Rights Act, or for the prisons filled with young black men–a few of the litany of excuses that will be proffered as evidence that blacks are still judged by the color of their skin and not the content of their character.
The real reason the dream remains unrealized is that King no more meant what he said than did Jefferson almost two hundred years earlier. Jefferson may have said all men were created equal, but he wasn’t looking to free his slaves when he said it. And neither did King seek to have blacks judged solely by the content of their character. He, and the Civil Rights movement generally, sought to have blacks favored for the color of their skin. And the movement succeeded. The official government program is today referred to as Affirmative Action.
A few years after Jefferson helped pen that fateful document declaring that the United States be freed from England’s oversight, he, and other slave owners, sought equal treatment in the counting of slaves as people under the new Constitution. But it wasn’t because they wished to count slaves as among those to whom Constitutional protections applied. It was because they wanted to count the vast numbers of slaves in the South in apportioning representation in Congress. They sought to enhance their power in Washington politics by treating each slave as a citizen under the census. Jefferson, et al, did not for a moment believe that all men, including slaves, were created equal, but he was not above proclaiming their equivalence if a political advantage accrued. The North got its way, and slaves were only counted as 3/5ths of a person.
Neither were Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement seeking equality for blacks. They sought for blacks to be more equal than everyone else, as the nearly immediate adoption of Affirmative Action upon passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 soundly attests. The Act specifically prohibited Affirmative Action, but the Warren Court immediately set its justices to the semantic, legal and logical gymnastics required of creating a compulsion where a prohibition plainly obtained. Such is the purpose of much of the brainpower devoted to the law–the contrivance of legal rationales for indulging otherwise illegal political impulses.
Given their subsequent actions, neither Jefferson nor King meant what they said. Always listen to what people do, not what they say. Over two hundred years after Jefferson’s eloquent but ultimately meaningless utterance, the federal government he helped establish mandates treating men as if they were created unequal because of their skin tone or national origin. Fifty years after King’s eloquent enunciation of his dream, his ancestors adamantly refuse to be solely judged by the content of the character. They demand the color of their skin still be taken account in apportioning social and economic benefits. That today it more often than not promotes rather than impedes their purposes makes it no less illegitimate.