Martin Luther King is an American icon whose legacy has become part of the American ethos – the guiding beliefs that characterize our national identity.
Just as Thomas Jefferson is best known for authoring the Declaration of Independence, King’s contribution to this ethos is inseparable from his “I Have A Dream” speech, which articulated a future to which America continues to aspire. King’s portrait of a nation where individuals are judged on their actions and character without regard to their race remains the ideal for the vast majority of Americans.
Celebrating Martin Luther King Day, we honor his condemnation of racism, we commemorate his stand against government-sponsored discrimination, and we look forward to a day when colorblind society is a reality.
King’s work led directly to President Kennedy’s executive order on affirmative action and the ultimate passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Kennedy compelled government agencies and contractors to, “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” These are words wholly consistent with King’s speech and the colorblind message embraced by the country.
Tragically, King’s dream was hijacked by a growing movement that demanded race be part of almost every government decision. This race industry hides behind terms like “diversity” and “equality” to advocate policies that perpetuate a cycle of racial stereotyping, victimization, and government discrimination. Consider that:
In October of last year, an attorney for the group By Any Means Necessary, stood before the US Supreme Court and argued that the Fourteenth Amendment only protects certain racial groups from discrimination in order to overturn a state ban on race and gender preferences.
Six federal financial regulatory agencies recently created regulations to assess the diversity policies of institutions they regulate. Rather than encouraging financial institutions to genuinely evaluate each employee based on individual talent and contributions, these standards incentivize artificially manufacturing “correct” diversity numbers to comply with government oversight.
This month, the Department of Justice issued new guidance to K-12 schools, calling on administrators to use race in student disciplinary action to ensure punishments are distributed proportionately to each racial and ethnic group. Those that do not produce the right numbers may face aggressive civil-rights prosecution.
Last year, NPR implied an urgent need for craft brewing diversity regulations when it bemoaned the lack of black and Latino individuals in the industry. Do we really want our government micro-managing and engineering who goes into each profession? What’s next? Should the federal government start issuing brewing licenses only to favored races in order to promote diversity?
These policies – like all policies that treat individuals differently based on race or ethnicity – seriously undermine our country’s hopes for a colorblind America. Race preference policies don’t just engender resentment and reinforce stereotypes, they frequently harm the people they are intended to benefit.
Studies show that college applicants admitted to elite universities because of race preference policies are three times more likely to drop out than their fellow students. Many of these “beneficiaries” of race-based admissions could have succeeded had they attended a college better matched to their level of preparation. The achievements of qualified minorities are undermined in the process.
Furthermore, racial spoils systems are used as a proxy for socioeconomic consideration. These not only foster stereotypes, but ignore research demonstrating that most beneficiaries of racial admissions policies are middle and upper class students – not the poor and disadvantaged.
Today, as we celebrate the contributions of Martin Luther King, we should ask ourselves if race-based policies are moving us closer to our ideal. Fifty years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, are we on the right path to judging individuals on the content of character, not the color of skin?
If not, we should look to the courage of King for inspiration to demand a change of course.
Jennifer Gratz is the founder and CEO of the XIV Foundation, named after the 14th Amendment, to defend the principle of equal treatment and a colorblind society.