Recently, I wrote about affirmative action and its (presumably short) future.
As I stated, one can object to the program without being racist. There are legitimate questions about constitutionality, legal principles, and unintended consequences.
However, one argument irks many ethnic minorities. That is whenever a white conservative insists that his opposition to affirmative action is based upon his deep love for Martin Luther King and the Reverend’s principles. Too many establishment power brokers have insisted that they are the true heirs of MLK’s legacy, with the additional boast that they “would have marched with him.”
King has become such an authentic American icon that namedropping him is the safest play in the world. In addition, the distance of decades allows anyone to claim affinity with the man. Bill Maher has addressed those conservatives, who insist that they would have supported King. Maher said, “You don’t get points for what you might have done, in your imagination. I can say I had a great plan for springing Jesus out of jail.”
Indeed, saying that you would have done this or that during a time of overt strife is convenient. Who can refute you? The only problem is that no one can verify it either. Such claims would have more heft if we could envision these pinstriped guys marching with King back in the day. Some of them may even be old enough to have had the chance. But I just have a hard time picturing them facing the truncheons and the guard dogs. If that’s unfair, I would settle for examples of when they cleared their throat to correct someone for cracking a racist joke.
So is this objection to ideas such as affirmative action really about the abstract nobility of equal treatment? Or is it about a powerful majority feeling stung when somebody else gets a little help?
And with all the racial problems this country faces, why is it that so many white conservatives believe ending affirmative action is their sole opportunity to earn their brotherhood-of-man bona fides?
Often, people bring up King’s “I have a dream” speech, with its stirring words of judging individuals “not by the color of their skin.” Unfortunately, anyone who claims that this goal has been accomplished, and that racial differences are irrelevant, is surely living in a dream.
So, to all those conservatives who insist on proclaiming what they would have, could have done if only they were lucky enough to grow up in a deeply segregated society, I ask you to reconsider. Base your opposition to affirmative action, or similar concepts, on something concrete. But please don’t cloak yourself in magnanimousness, talk about your lofty ideals, and trumpet your theoretical support for MLK.
Because any Latino or African American who has been slurred, passed over for a job, or stopped by a cop for no reason is unlikely to buy your sudden interest in racial harmony.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.