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MLK Was Not Color-Blind, But Color-Courageous

MLK colorblind

Pop quiz. Can you share one specific quote of Martin Luther King, Jr.?

If you are like most, you might recall this one, from his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech: “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.” 

Many consider this to be King’s most famous quote of all time. And, on the basis of this quote, they say that King was color-blind—and we should be too.

But guess what? The idea that King was color-blind is a myth. King was not color-blind, but color-courageous. When we look at the vast scope of his work, instead of taking one quote out of context, we’ll see that King never said that the way to advance racial equality was to ignore our racial differences.

There are, of course, many merits to color-blindness. For example, we are all equally created in the image of God—and, in this way, we must see each other equally. At the same time, we must also see that God has blessed us with beautiful differences—which he loves!  In particular, God calls us to see, celebrate and appreciate our ethnic differences. Ethnicity is a God-ordained cultural identity that God delights in as a means of bringing glory to himself and enrichment to his kingdom. But then we must go further: we must also see that, because live in a fallen world, our beautiful differences too often breed conflict and inequality—both intentionally and unintentionally. If we cannot see these realities, we cannot address them.

What’s Wrong With Being Color-Blind?

Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be color-blind. We have been living in the color-blind generation. The emphasis of color-blindness is, ostensibly, equality. Color-blind disciples refuse to “see” color in a well-intentioned effort to treat everyone equally. 

For the most part, color-blind discipleship is known mostly for what it doesn’t do. Color-blind disciples don’t see race. They don’t differentiate, and they certainly don’t (intentionally) discriminate. 

But here’s the thing: in our day, color-blindness is proving to be wholly ineffective. Why? Listen carefully: Because those who cannot see race also cannot see racism. Those who refuse to countenance racial categories are more prone to miss racial inequities; they are also prone to suppress important conversations about race that we still need to have. 

There’s now reams of research to demonstrate something very surprising: color-blindness actually leads to racial inequity, precisely the opposite of what was intended. In his phenomenal book The Psychology of Colorblindness, Philip Mazzocco did a review of all the research on colorblindness. His conclusion was this: 

Although the preference for colorblindness may be well-intentioned for some, the consequences of colorblindness . . . appear to be almost entirely negative both with respect to racial minorities, and society at large.

The irony of our generation is this: Today few people intentionally embrace racism … yet racial inequity firmly persists in nearly every area of life that can be measured—wealth, education, criminal justice, healthcare, career opportunities, and so much more.