Op-Ed: Preserving MLK’s Lesson -Zachary Faria

50 years ago this upcoming April, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated and, while Dr. King is responsible for helping push the country to a new era, it would seem that his lessons have been forgotten by many in recent years.

Polls of Americans, both white and black, have shown that favorable views of racial relations have been falling since 2013. This change coincides with the acquittal of George Zimmerman and the subsequent formation of the Black Lives Matter movement. According to Gallup polls, 2015 marked the lowest point in race relations since the turn of the century.

This was not long after the time President Obama was heeded as the man who could finally close the chapter on America’s racial tensions. Instead he opted to stoke it, meekly condemning the “handful” of rioters who took to the streets whilst also justifying their reasons for doing so. The massacre of five Dallas police officers is a shining example: after focusing on the officers for the first section of the speech, he pivoted to his agenda on implicit bias and gun control.

At the same time, the Black Lives Matter movement has decided to prop up leaders such as Colin Kaepernick, who controversy claimed on Twitter that there is no difference between today’s police and slave patrols. Now President Trump has opted to play culture warrior as well after trading blows with NFL and NBA athletes over the national anthem. The status of Racial identity politics is now one such that any conversation to be had on police brutality has become polluted if not infeasible.

At the heart of it all, Dr. King’s message of placing the content of one’s character of the color of one’s skin has faded in recent years, with college campuses being particularly affected. From Evergreen State and their “No White People Day,” to UC-Berkeley students using a human wall to restrict white students from crossing a bridge, to the hysterical protests at Mizzou. These big moments overshadow the persistent racially divisive message being sown on campus every day in classrooms and clubs across the nation: the color of your skin is a quintessential part of who you are.

While media outlets are quick to compare NFL players kneeling to King’s own protests, they too lose the message King spread. Not only is it an insulting comparison, considering the violence and jail time Dr. King risked with his protests, but it mischaracterizes the nature of Dr. King’s movement. The March on Washington, which culminated in the infamous “I Have a Dream” speech, began with a rendition of the national anthem. Dr. King did not think that racism was an inherent element of the Constitution or the American Dream. He instead recognized that the fight for civil rights was a fight for the American values outlined in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Standing for civil rights does not put you in opposition to what the United States stands for; rather, it places you in line with what the founders envisioned, even if they were unable to usher it into reality.

This MLK day, don’t just remember the man who lost his life in pursuit of concrete justice. Remember his message; the color of your skin is no more important than the color of your hair or eyes, and that we cannot move beyond today’s increasing racial divide by preserving our tendency to lump each other into racial categories. Remember that King’s dream is one “deeply rooted in the American dream”, and there is nothing more American than the pursuit of equality and justice for all.

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