Each year, as we approach Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the inevitable question arises: “What would Dr. King think if he were still alive today?”
How would the civil rights leader approach the issues we are currently dealing with? Would he be a Republican or Democrat? How would he feel about Black Lives Matter? What about race relations?
It’s not easy to determine what King would think of the current state of American society. People’s views can change over time. Nevertheless, we can look at how facets of today’s society measure up to the values which King espoused during the ‘60s.
Racial Tensions Have Intensified Dramatically
During his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King spoke of an America in which Americans of all races could live together peacefully. He wished to see an end to segregation and for all Americans to be treated equally.
Race relations in our society right now are strained; over the past few years, tensions between different races have increased. Additionally, certain fringe movements like the white nationalist elements of the alt-right and the black nationalist Hotep movement openly promote the notion of voluntary segregation between the races.
The growth of the social justice movement in various aspects of American culture has fomented anti-white racism. The left’s campaign to demonize whites — especially straight white males — has encouraged minorities to embrace political correctness and take on an identity of victimhood.
In response, many on the right have embraced a form of white identity politics that contain the same elements of the victimhood narrative being perpetuated by the left. While they may not agree with the beliefs of white supremacists, they have grown weary of being told they are racist simply because they don’t agree with the ideas of the left. Unfortunately, they have reacted to the left’s constant badgering by writing off legitimate complaints about racism. Indeed, many seem to have convinced themselves that racism no longer exists in the United States.
Sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it? Fortunately, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds.
Are Race Relations Really That Bad?
The fringe movements that espouse separatist views are just that — fringe movements. They do not represent the majority of Americans. While many on the left have encouraged minorities to view themselves as victims of white oppression, most do not fully subscribe to this narrative. The majority of Americans have friends, and even spouses, of other races.
By and large, Americans have rejected racism and bigotry. Racist hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan have been marginalized in our culture, and they no longer hold influence. While racial tensions are higher than most of us would like, it’s clear that we are not in the same place as we were during the civil rights movement.
What Would King Want To Change?
It’s hard to say what problems King would consider the most urgent. Many have wondered what he would think of Black Lives Matter, police brutality, poverty, and other important issues affecting the black community.
There is no doubt that Dr. King would consider police brutality to be a problem. He knew firsthand what it was like to be on the wrong end of police misconduct. While Dr. King would certainly agree with Black Lives Matter’s (BLM) opposition to police brutality, he was not a radical. It is doubtful that King would use the actions of a few corrupt police officers to paint the majority of law enforcement officials as bad actors. He would likely have some strong opinions on black-on-black crime as well and might take issue with BLM’s avoidance of this issue.
With the majority of homicides being committed by black perpetrators against black victims, King would likely feel a sense of urgency in addressing crime in black neighborhoods. One of the main causes of crime is poverty. One of the primary causes of poverty is the lack of stable families. This was a tremendous concern for King. In a speech at the University of Chicago in 1966, he emphasized the importance of the black family:
“The institution of the family is decisive in determining not only if a person has the capacity to love another individual but in the larger social sense whether he is capable of loving his fellowmen collectively. The whole of society rests on this for stability, understanding, and social peace.”
There is no doubt that King considered the black family to be an important component of the black community. However, he also warned that the breakdown of the black family could essentially reverse the progress made in the civil rights movement:
“A recent study offers the alarming conclusion that the family in the urban ghettos is crumbling and disintegrating. It suggests that the progress in civil rights can be negated by the dissolving of family structure and therefore social justice and tranquility can be delayed for generations.”
So what was it about this study that had King so worried? This particular study showed that almost 25% of black American women were divorced. The similar rate among white women was 8%. He was also concerned about the disproportionately higher rates of illegitimacy among blacks. In the ‘60s, the number of black families being raised by single mothers was 2 ½ times that of white families.
The Situation Today
So how do these numbers compare to today’s black America? Well, currently the divorce rate in the black community is about 70%. Additionally, 77% of black children are born out of wedlock compared to about 25% for white children. Based on King’s speeches, there can be no doubt that he would be alarmed by the current state of the black family in America.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a champion for civil rights, and his mission was to fight the racism that kept black Americans living as second-class citizens. Much has changed since the ‘60s. Most of the changes have been for the better. American society has grown leaps and bounds when it comes to race relations. However, with the current tensions between races growing worse, King would likely warn us against the danger of moving backwards.
The condition of the black community still needs improvement. The issues facing black Americans stem largely from the lack of stable black families. The high rates of divorce, single motherhood and out-of-wedlock births are dooming many black Americans to lives of poverty and crime. It is a tragedy that cannot be blamed on racism.
While racism still exists in the United States, Dr. King’s dream has been realized, but now, we must work to ensure that our society does not devolve into the type of tribalism that will further divide us. Those on the right and the left who increase racial tensions must be repudiated by those who understand what King’s dream means. Otherwise, we will risk erasing much of the progress made by people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.