By one little adjective shall ye know them

Today being both the day on which Martin Luther King’s birthday is celebrated, and the ceremonial inauguration of Barack Obama for his thankfully last term occurs, it was of no surprise that The Philadelphia Inquirer would be having some stirring editorial celebrating both and noting the conjunction. Dr King famously said:

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.

Dr King’s “I have a dream” speech resonated across the land, and is almost universally accepted as the pattern for which we should strive in race relations in the United States.

King Day again time to reflect

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013, 3:01 AM

It’s fitting that the annual observance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth and the inauguration of President Obama for a second term are occurring on the same day.

Four years ago, America’s inauguration of its first black president brought great optimism about a post-racial era. And indeed, the United States has made significant progress toward being the colorblind society King envisioned in his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

But most reasonable people would agree that there are more steps to be taken in ensuring that character, not skin color, is the dominant means by which people are judged.

America today remains racially divided – in many of its schools, neighborhoods, and churches. Politically, too, and on key social issues, it’s often easy to divide the country by race. That’s because despite the obvious progress made in almost every endeavor, minorities face many of the same challenges, albeit to a lesser degree, that spurred King to march and boycott for change.

Did you catch the innocent little adjective, the very odd qualifier used by the editors? “But most reasonable people would agree that there are more steps to be taken in ensuring that character, not skin color, is the dominant means by which people are judged.” What can that mean other than the editors see a legitimate place for judging people by race, as long as it is not the “dominant” one?

The kind of statement the editors made is one I might expect from someone arguing for a continuation of Affirmative Action, saying that a color-blind society is our goal, but we need to continue with Affirmative Action to help us get closer to that goal before we end it. That is not the path the editors took, and Affirmative Action is neither mentioned nor alluded. The editors noted that black Americans are more often stuck on the negative side of the statistical measures of societal progress, and lumped them all together as “vestiges of past discrimination” — though how we can blame segregation fifty years ago for the greater tendency of teenaged black males to drop out of high school today seems rather a stretch — and noted that having twice elected a black American as our President hasn’t changed that. One wonders if four years under President Obama has even mildly ameliorated the numbers; little else, for anybody, seems to have improved during Mr Obama’s first term.

I have been opposed to the preference-based portion of Affirmative Action from the start,1 but our country tried it anyway, yet it simply has failed. The unemployment rate for black Americans is higher today than it was in 1972, and has been higher throughout President Obama’s entire term than most of the months of even the Jimmy Carter stagflation years. The worst months of the 1992 recession saw black unemployment barely touch the consistent readings under President Obama, and the only period since 1972 of worse unemployment among black Americans than we are seeing right now was during the steep recession President Reagan inherited.2 Perhaps, just perhaps, the right path to progress for black Americans, for all Americans, is not to make certain that race is not the dominant factor by which people are judged or even a minor factor, but not a factor at all.

  1. Initially, Affirmative Action meant a program in which employers and schools made an outreach to the black community, to know what jobs and seats were available, to give them the opportunity to apply; I had absolutely no problem with that.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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