A few weeks before Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his legendary “I Have A Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, a major book publisher released a book that featured a collection of King’s sermons.
One of the 17 sermons in that book contained a poignant warning from King that is critical for understanding the roots of many of America’s persistent race-based problems.
Dr. King, in that sermon initially delivered in April 1960, warned: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
That dynamic of sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity is abundantly evident in the serial mischaracterizations of King’s ‘Dream’ speech by persons across the political spectrum. Those mischaracterizations that pollute the real meanings embedded in King’s speech are particularly pronounced among conservatives.
Dr. King’s 1963 speech is rightly revered for those ten inspirational sentences where King referenced his dreams – not just the single dream of people being judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin.
Often ignored is the fact that the bulk of King’s ‘Dream’ speech was a delineation of America’s nightmare of racism – not an articulation of dreams.
King condemned nightmarish deprivations like police brutality, housing discrimination, economic exploitation, and voter suppression. King castigated America’s failures to fulfill its constitutional pledge that all Americans would enjoy “the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
Even as King revealed his fabled dream for his “four little children” to live in an America free of racism, he bracketed that specific dream with other dreams that included an end of racist injustices in states like Alabama and Mississippi.
Dr. King, in those ten dream related sentences, characterized Mississippi as a “state sweltering with the heat of injustice” and Alabama as a state with “its vicious racists.” Despite undeniable racial progress across America since 1963, Mississippi and Alabama retain race-based regressions King criticized in that ‘Dream’ speech.
The U.S. Supreme Court gutted abortion rights nationwide in 2022 in a case involving a Mississippi anti-abortion law. Yet, the professed ‘pro-life’ Mississippi is the state with America’s highest rates of infant mortality. Black babies in Mississippi die in their first year of life at twice the rate of white babies.
Mississippi officials readily acknowledge that infant mortality “is closely related to important social determinants of health such as poverty, education and race.” But Mississippi officials conscientiously allow those social determinants to fester.
Another example of festering is the fact that Mississippi officials have done little over decades to address the deterioration of the water system in the state’s capital of Jackson – a predominately Black city. Racism is a big reason behind the festering water crisis in Jackson.
The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a pinnacle accomplishment of Dr. King’s civil rights activism.
However, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key enforcement provision of that Act in a case from Alabama. Today the nation’s highest court is considering another case from Alabama that could further gut voting rights. If the high court’s conservative majority sides with conservative Republican officials in Alabama, Blacks and other persons of color nationwide will endure disproportionate disadvantage in their voting rights.
Nearly forty years after approval of Dr. King’s January 15th birthday as a national holiday, Alabama and Mississippi remain the only two states in America where the state holiday for King’s birthday is scheduled with official recognition for the birthday of Robert E. Lee – the general who led the Confederate Army during the Civil War to preserve slavery.
Sincere ignorance among some in the public coupled with conscientious stupidity from many conservative officials drives efforts that seek to erase the ugly realities of America’s systemic racism from classroom instruction. Today 17 states have approved measures or initiated other initiatives to limit how the history of racism is taught in K-12 schools.
Conservatives like to latch onto a portion of one sentence in Dr. King’s 1963 ‘Dream’ speech as if it’s the entire speech.
Conservatives staunchly opposed to Dr. King’s goals are still quick to quote that portion in his speech where King declared his dream that people should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Conservatives quote that portion to advance their deceitful assertion that America is now a color-blind society, devoid of systemic racism. Conservatives weaponize that portion not to batter bigotry but to bludgeon efforts that attack systemic racism – like diversity-&-inclusion initiatives and affirmative action programs.
A lawsuit filed recently in Texas is yet another example of duplicity by conservatives. That lawsuit claims medical schools in Texas discriminate against white male and Asian-American applicants. That discrimination, the lawsuit claims, is due largely to affirmative action efforts in medical schools to increase the number of Black and Latino doctors in the Lone Star state.
Blacks comprise just 6.3 percent of all of the doctors in Texas, according to a 2021 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Latinos are 11.3 percent of all doctors in Texas where Latinos comprise forty percent of the state’s population. That report listed Asians as 22.9 percent of the doctors in Texas with whites at 50.6 percent of all doctors.
Texas has serious issues in its health care system but malicious discrimination against white male med school applicants is not a matter of momentous import…except to conservatives who seek to sustain the racially inequitable status quo.
Texas, for example, ranks among the worse in America for racial health disparities. Those disparities include mortality among Black infants at more than twice the rate of white infants plus deaths among Blacks from diabetes being 75 percent higher than whites.
Dr. King – in that 1960 sermon entitled “Love In Action” – reminded that Americans “proclaim our devotion to democracy, but we sadly practice the very opposite of the democratic creed.”