This year as we celebrate the life and legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr,, the analysis of his message has morphed into the battle over Critical Race Theory and how American history should be taught in public schools. WWKD, What Would King Do, has been the focal point of much commentary as we look at his speeches and crusades.
I’ve noticed several articles by local students and other commentators pushing back at what they see as the “whitewashing” of his tactics and his persona. It seems to center around arguments that conservatives have created a false construction of King to fight against affirmative action and teaching history in a way that fairly shows the warts of our past and current systemic issues along racial lines.
I think conservatives have to be careful not to overextend in making the case that Dr. King would not line up with the divisive message of Ibram Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones. Yet the conservative embrace of Dr. King has a lot of validity and speaks to the case that America has evolved in an incredibly positive way on racial equality and fairness. Conservatives can concede that many people did not fully embrace the vision of Dr. King when he was alive, but over the course of time, it has become the legal and moral centerpiece of our country.
This evolution is the key narrative that is disputed by those who are introducing variants of Critical Race Theory into our area schools. They maintain that if he were alive today, Dr. King would support the notion that America was still a de facto racist society. Isha Chitira, a Lower Moreland High School student, writing recently in the Bucks County Courier Post said, “In reality, King is far more than what we learn in school. Beyond being the face of the civil rights movement, King was staunchly anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist. And while he certainly believed in peace, he also thought that civil unrest was sometimes necessary to bring about change.”
Renn Miller, leader of the Camden Charter School, echoes Chitira writing in The Philadelphia Inquirer by stating, “Children may be taught the words of Dr. King to champion colorblindness, but not the current-day circumstances that render America unwilling to confront matters of race with a concrete policy like voting rights legislation, which liberals can’t deliver on.”
That is the stance President Joe Biden took last week in Georgia when he essentially said that if you oppose him on voting procedures, you are on the same side as Bull Connor, Jefferson Davis, and George Wallace. I don’t believe that Martin Luther King would endorse that sort of nonsense.
So, I think it is a good idea to explore the complexity of the agenda of Martin Luther King. However, the essence of the gospel of King comes back to creating a colorblind society and the rhetoric of Biden and those who don’t want schools to chart the progress America has made toward this goal must be rejected.
I share the outrage of parents across the country who have spoken out at school board meetings about the distorted history that was being taught to their kids. Of course, there were some people fueled by a racial animus that won’t allow them to acknowledge the warts of our past. However, there are people whose ideology will not allow them to see America advancing every day. They throw charges of racism around routinely. It is fine to want to accelerate the pace. It’s wrong to deny it is happening.