How Media Turned Dr. King
into an Opponent of Affirmative Action
by Paul Rockwell
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was alive, the mainstream Media treated him with fear and derision. In response to King's prophetic anti-war address in 1967, TIME magazine called King a "demagog for Radio Hanoi." Even years later, Ronald Reagan described King as a near communist.
Today, however, a miracle is taking place in the Media. Suddenly Dr. King is becoming a conservative. By virtue of a snippit from one 1963 address -- a single phrase about "the content of our character"-- Dr. King is the most oft-quoted opponent of affirmative action in America today.
The transformation of King, from communist to conservative requires explanation.
When Governor Mike Foster signed an executive order, January 11th, to abolish affirmative action in Louisiana, he did what Pundits and Politicians are doing throughout the U.S.-- inking campaigns against affirmative action to the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream. "I can't find anywhere in King's writings," Foster said, "that King wanted reverse discrimination. He just wanted to end all discrimination based on color." (New York Times, 1/12/96)
Even Newt Gingrich, in To Renew America, portrays King as an individualist who opposes "group rights." (p.154)
In his California campaign to pass the "California Civil Rights Initiative," a ballot measure that bans all state affirmative action, Governor Pete Wilson invokes King's name more often than preachers quote the Bible. CCRI backers show no fear of Media accountability when they identify Dr. King as an opponent of affirmative action.
Dr. King's miraculous endorsement of CCRI is a Media development. Like politicians, pundits too are turning King into a rugged individualist, an angel of the free market.
As David Horowitz put it on Crossfire (Sept. 5, l994): "Martin Luther King, in my view, was a conservative because he stood up for, you know, belief in the content of your character -- the value that conservatives defend today."
In The Washington Post (ApriI 26, 1991) Charles Krauthammer pits King against diversity. Progressives, he writes, "have traded King's dream for something called diversity. . . It is the opponents of race-conscious public policy who today speak in the name of values that King championed."
In a cover story, March 20, 1995, The National Review trashed affirmative action. The cover depicted a black kid, a kid with a sombrero, and a white girl happily climbing ladders, while two white boys fall down "the slippery slope of quotas." The article begins: "The civil-rights movement has strayed far from the color-blind principles of Martin Luther King, Jr."
Setting The Record Straight
The exploitation of King's name, the distortion of his teachings for political gain, is an ugly development. It was Dr. King himself, as chair of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who initiated the first, successful, national affirmative action policy in the U.S.-- "Operation Breadbasket."
In Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, among other cities, King staffers gathered disparity data on corporations doing business in black communities. King was so encouraged by early affirmative action efforts, he wrote: "At present, SCLC has Operation Breadbasket functioning in some twelve cities, and the results have been remarkable ... 800 new and upgraded jobs several covenants with major industries.''
King was well aware of arguments against affirmative action. Even in 1964, in Why We Can't Wait, he wrote: "Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic."
Dr. King -- who launched Operation Breadbasket in 12 American cities -- supported affirmative action because he never confused the dream with American reality. As he put it, "A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro" to compete on a just and equal basis.
In 1965 King compared affirmative action to the GI Bill. "Within common law we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs ... And you will remember that America adopted a policy of special treatment for her millions of veterans after the war." (Affirmative action for veterans is still in place today, and many qualified women are often passed over by male vets on the basis of "veteran preference").
King's Preference for Multi-racial Democracy
In King's teachings, affirmative action is not "reverse discrimination." The current phrase, "racial preference," as a definition for affirmative action, is nasty and misleading, a linguistic sleight-of-hand. (See Janine Jackson, "White Man's Burden," EXTRA, Sept-Oct.1995). As King promoted it, affirmative action is not preference for race over race (or gender over gender). Affirmative action is preference for inclusion, for equal opportunity, for real democracy. Nor is King's integration punitive; integration benefits all Americans, male and female, white and non-white alike. And contrary to Gingrich, King insisted that, along with individual efforts, collective problems require collective solutions. There is no free-market proxy for race or gender in America.
Policies of inclusion are evident in King's last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community? (1967). King writes: "Integration is mutual sharing of power. White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of society...This is a multi-racial nation where all groups are dependent on each other."
Like Justice Thurgood Marshall, King viewed affirmative action as a means to achieving a truly equalitarian and color-blind society. To destroy the means, the gradual process by which equality is achieved, destroys the dream itself. And the use of King's beloved name in this ugly enterprise only adds insult to destruction.
Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King
Some quotes from Dr. King on the subject of affirmative action:
|Published in In Motion Magazine October 20, 1996.
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