The content of their character

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
(Martin Luther King)

If only we could get this down. Some conservatives suggest that laws have been changed to make discrimination illegal and thus we are already there (in effect, we ARE judging people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin). Some woke progressives suggest, on the contrary, that the remark points to a distant future, so far removed from the present that it is a mistake to try to apply it today in our everyday lives.

I think each of these views is somewhat myopic. I think the best way to look at it is this: MLK’s rule is a starting point for the individual and an endpoint for society. If we each start now, with the people we meet on the street today, to judge people by the content of their character and not the color of the skin, if we each follow the well-known paraphrase of Gandhi to “be the change you want to see in the world,” we will be taking the necessary first step on the path that ultimately ends with the society Dr. King envisioned. So don’t make the mistake of thinking there is not much work left to be done on the road to racial equality and harmony, but don’t make the perhaps even larger mistake of not applying the MLK rule in your personal life today.

Those are my thoughts. Additional thoughts and comments welcome.

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11 thoughts on “The content of their character

  1. I think the thing that stands out for me with Dr. King’s quote is how non-revolutionary it is. In essence, it is simply asking for the United States to live up to the preamble of Declaration of Independence. How this is controversial or inflammatory to some will forever be beyond me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Good point, Jacob. To push a little, I think it was inflammatory then because so many were clinging to segregation. I don’t think it is inflammatory or controversial now, in the sense that almost everyone at all points in the spectrum professes agreement with it. However, it is quite revolutionary in another sense. Although everyone “agrees” at face value, everyone today seems too much debauched by politics to face the radically integrationist message it contains. It is a call to break down all the walls between races and let shared humanness reign (which doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge race or celebrate each other across racial lines). It is a call not to deny race but to deny that race is the definitive marker of identity. Such a call is an existential threat to Trumpian conservatives and woke progressives alike — hence, I might tentatively argue, at least revolutionary enough to make today’s woke progressives look like reactionaries 🙂

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  2. All I can say is ‘Yes!’ You can’t legislate a change in attitudes, that can only come from within. But the nice thing is that once that attitude does change, it gets passed down from one generation to the next. I guess it’s a bit like ‘herd immunity’ – between 70 and 90% of a society have to make the change before it protects everyone. We’re not there yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Discrimination and hate crimes can be outlawed through statutes and policies, But getting community populations to adjust their attitudes is an enormous task. Even when social norms around such issues are the majority view, backsliding and regression easily occur.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I completely agree with that statement! Unfortunately history has never been kind to idealists and their ideas. Most of them committed suicide, where burned on the stake or ended up as disappointed romantics (cynics). Unfortunately nature has its own, indiscriminate method to overcome all racial divides. As brutal and cynical it sounds, but conquering, rape and pillage were the methods of the old. One only has to read about Russian history and the methods the Mongols used, or about the melting pot Europa became during the Roman times; slaves were imported from around the Mediterranean and far afield as Abyssinia. No matter from what kind of race they came, they all were in time integrated into the roman society. Consciousness has risen at least in some part of the globe and the mingling of the different races has become less forced, but has the contempt for “otherness” really changed that much? In my opinion nothing will change in our behaviour towards the other, before we are not all medium brown! I doubt if that is necessary an improvement on humanity. What is to gain from losing all those racial varieties, which in my eyes are the most attractive aspect of humanity? I do not want to go down the path of suggest the integrating abilities of religion. It would just mean changing one negative aspect of humanity for another.
    The solution? We have to work together to raise the global consciousness. There is an idealist for you!
    Greetings Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes — let it begin with me as a prayer and commitment to action as an individual; and through all the “little me’s” let the “endpoint” as you say, be a changed society — dare we say it? hope it? a changed World.

    Liked by 1 person

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