Hello to everyone but the Tennessee officials who fired the top vaccine official as COVID cases soar – up more than 370% over the last two weeks.

In preparation for launching MLK50: Justice Through Journalism in 2017, I read almost everything Dr. Martin Luther King has written and watched just about every speech that was videotaped. Our namesake’s words serve as our foundational texts and I needed to know them.

So when I see ahistorical nonsense such as what U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, tweeted earlier this week, the kindest response I can offer is this: Bless his heart.

“Critical Race Theory goes against everything Martin Luther King Jr. taught us—to not judge others by the color of their skin. The Left is trying to take America backward.”

Everything King taught us? Or just the cherry picked pablum quotes McCarthy chooses to parrot? (The GOP leader’s pinned tweet? “Critical Race Theory is racism. Pass it on.”) 

It’s incredible how many people misuse the gift of Al Gore’s internet to be both loud and wrong, but refuse to use that same internet to acquaint themselves with King’s words, never mind what CRT actually is.

It doesn’t seem like McCarthy even read the entirety of King’s oft quoted 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, from which McCarthy borrowed the language for his tweet: “I have a dream that my four 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.” 

Ironically, that very speech begins with a CRT analysis: “One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination,” King wrote. “One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.”

According to a thorough American Bar Association primer on CRT, the legal theory “critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers. 

“CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.”

Although the theory was not defined as such during King’s lifetime, he understood the inextricable links between the horrors of the past and the inequality of today. 

“Again we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard word and sacrifice,” King said in his 1967 speech “The Three Evils of Society.” 

“The fact is that Capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor – both black and white, both here and abroad.”

Nearly 55 years after King gave that speech, evidence of the tiered system that holds Black people of color at the bottom is clear: They earn less than whites at every education level, they get longer prison sentences than whites for the same crimes, and even when the neighborhoods are virtually identical, property values are lower in majority Black neighborhoods when compared to mostly white ones. 

Again from the ABA CRT primer: “CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.”

Still, too many focus on the individual – character vs. color of skin – which absolves them of any responsibility to examine, much less correct, systems and institutions that created and maintain racism and economic inequality. 

And worse, of late, they’ve pulled out all the stops to fight what was a fairly obscure academic theory, stripping public school educators of their ability to teach history accurately. (Tennessee is one of five states that have passed laws barring public schools for teaching what it thinks is CRT. Schools in Tennessee that do so could lose state funding.) 

McCarthy, who is white, appears to think that his opposition to CRT proves he’s aligned with King’s vision of racial equality. 

But King could have been speaking directly to the GOP leader when he offered this sharp rebuke in his 1967 book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” 

“The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.”

If you can’t say amen, say ouch.


This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

Got a story idea, a tip or feedback? Send an email to mlk50@mlk50.com.