On Monday, January 21, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr Day, an American federal holiday which marks the birthday of the legendary figure who stood at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. News outlets and social media sites were incandescent with expressions of support for his inspirational words and actions, which condemned hate, racism, and bigotry in the United States.
Since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, many terrible elements of historical American racism have been banished to the dark corners of history. In countless, immeasurable ways, the fight against racism and bigotry has been successful. However, after such wonderful progress, society has allowed itself to slip off-course in the fight to end racism, and meander towards an online form of contemporary bigotry.
In Martin Luther King Jr’s famous dream of America’s future, his children were judged by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin. Despite the huge strides made by the Civil Rights Movement, in modern times it is still the case that people are often judged solely on non-individual characteristics.
Partnered with the determination to drive the concept of intersectionality, character has become inextricably linked with race, religion, gender, class, or political viewpoint. This ideology has been cemented into modern American society by politicians who fuel shallow societal divisions for political gain, and the mainstream media who value broad intersectional narratives over the pursuit of evidence or context.
Many stories which dominate the media or political discourse continue to push society away from achieving Martin Luther King Jr’s dream. Discussions and debates surrounding illegal immigration, economic policies, abortion legislation, or gun control are driven by broad and sweeping generalizations. People are organized into two camps — the victimized and the victimizers — with factors such as race or gender used to measure character. The so-called victimized are inherently “good,” while the so-called victimizers are inherently “bad.”
The danger posed by this mentality has been demonstrated on multiple occasions in recent months. Without the desire to seek context or evidence, many have taken a macabre delight in their attempts to destroy the reputations of characters such as Brett Kavanaugh or Nick Sandmann, with the lack of evidence of individual wrongdoing ignored in favor of rushing toward a general conclusion based upon a broader hatred.
Despite the clear absence of evidence against Kavanaugh, he was held as a sacrificial lamb for the crimes of “white male patriarchy.” Similarly, the Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann was recently smeared as sharing the “look of white patriarchy” with Kavanaugh. In Sandmann’s case, the media enabled the aggressive online mobbing of the 16-year-old, without investigating any of the false claims made against him.
Despite the fact that further video evidence shows that Sandmann and his contemporaries were actually the victims of hateful, racist, and homophobic abuse, Sandmann’s “Make America Great Again” hat and his choice of facial expression was enough to elicit broad and violent hatred. Reza Aslan stated that Sandmann had a “punchable face,” and SNL writer Sarah Beattie even offered oral sex in exchange for the assault of the high school student. This sort of blind and gleeful outrage based on specific non-individualistic characteristics, partnered with the complete disregard for the importance of factual evidence, exhibits much of the same mentality that drove the abhorrent murderous lynch-mobs of the past.
The saga surrounding both Kavanaugh and Sandmann strongly refutes the notion that you can assume good or bad character based on race or gender alone. The incontrovertible fact which must be accepted is that there is no correlation between someone’s character and their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other intersectional group. This must also be acknowledged and applied by both sides of the political aisle. Bigotry cannot end until it is unilaterally condemned, and we cannot allow discrimination against one group to be replaced by discrimination against another, especially not as some form of historical revenge for the wrongs of the past.
This week, many shared Martin Luther King Jr’s inspirational quotes, while gleefully jumping on the hateful bandwagon against Nick Sandmann. These people should remember his immortal words, and decide if they want to end bigotry, or simply redirect it:
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.