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Friday, January 30, 2009

MLK and Affirmative Action

Even before Barack Obama won the presidency in November, you could already hear the calls from those who say that his success in the primaries is evidence that affirmative action is no longer necessary. The debate is likely to increase as the federal government prepares to spend nearly a trillion dollars to stimulate the economy and tries to deal with the question of how those funds should be targeted.

Inevitably, whenever the topic of affirmative action, preferential treatment, or anything similar comes up, some genius argues that such policies go against Dr. King's dream. After all, didn't Dr. King say that people should be judged “not … by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”? Well, for those who aren't quite clear on where Dr. King stood, here are some of his lesser known statements on the matter.

"Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is
raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up."
(Why We Can’t Wait, 1963)

"A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, in order to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis."
(Where Do We Go From Here?, 1967)

"Negroes have proceeded from a premise that equality means what it says, and they have taken white Americans at their word when they talked of it as an objective. But most whites in America in 1967, including many persons of goodwill, proceed from a premise that equality is a loose expression for improvement. White America is note even psychologically organized to close the gap—essentially it seeks only to make it less painful and less obvious but in most respects to retain it."
(Where Do We Go From Here?, 1967)

The following quote is from an interview with Playboy magazine (1965). It is in response to the following question from the interviewer: Do you feel it’s fair to request a multibillion-dollar program of preferential treatment for the Negro, or for an other minority group?

"I do indeed. Can any fair-minded citizen deny that the Negro has been deprived? Few people reflect that for two centuries the Negro was enslaved and robbed of any wages — potential accrued wealth which would have been the legacy of his descendants. All of America's wealth today could not adequately compensate its Negroes for his centuries of exploitation and humiliation."

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