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Content Of One’s Character

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How we got to where we are and how we get to where we must go to achieve Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “content of their character” paradigm.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who understood the context of time. Most importantly, he peered into the future, recognized his present and dismissed the past.

His unparalleled understanding of the context of time has left him no equal and with no successor. Malcolm X could not stand alongside the civil dignity of King. A young Jesse Jackson could not carry the mantle of King, caving instead to arrogance and profit. Opportunist Al Sharpton would only be worse — assisting in the power struggle that would deplete King’s organization. Student protestors Julian Bond and John Lewis too would leave much to be desired, though add numerous accolades to their names.

Lost, would be the growing, beautiful, intellectually-stimulating black middle class. Soon to follow would be the black father and family unit.

In a lot of ways, King remains the Godfather of all American blacks.

King flatly rejected a race war. His young frontline activists argued for a class war. He rightly dismissed this. Though he fought for workers, argued for fair pay and was opposed to the President Johnson’s Vietnam war, this wasn’t part of a class war for him, but instead for equality. “Getting the man” wasn’t King’s message and there was no anti-“1%” chant. King’s social justice work wasn’t the social justice work we find today. He fought against principalities and powers.

He understood that the advancement of American blacks rested in saving the country’s conscience. That meant the whole of the country, whites and blacks. Whites needed to demand their status be extended to all, and blacks needed to walk upright and righteously — deserving of the American dream.

He warned us that he wouldn’t be able to get to the end of the struggle and regrettably, traces of his character didn’t either.

King didn’t argue for nationalization of materials, seizure of tangible items, nor for 40 acres and a mule. American blacks were trapped with a unique plight. Justice couldn’t heal America, but equality could.

This is uniquely American; uniquely Christian. King was both. Reconciliation through unconditional forgiveness and the need to “live above reproach” are callings contrary to human instinct.

His assassination gave the worst voices unearned stage time and created in the broader black community conspiratorial skepticism and apathy. We’re still very much living with those evils.

The greatest cultural and economic setback in American history remains King’s death.

We’re still so bitter. White, black, liberal, conservative — we jump at the first sign, usually later to be found in error, that points to our contention of the status of racial relations in the country being correct. It’s tiresome and unproductive.

The sad truth is that: it is far more likely that generations will have to die off so new ones are forced to forget, than it is that we’ll be gifted with another leader who has both the discernment and empathy to reconcile us all.

The media, our supposed watchdog to our representative government, deserves much of the blame. They prevent the content of one’s character from being evaluated, especially in times of a great crime or horror. Liberals hold Trayvon Martin as a martyr of poor race relations, a lie. Conservative commentators talk fervently about “black-on-black” crime as if it is a lasting concern of theirs, an insult. Our media eats this all up. They were quick to give airtime to King’s self-declared successors — people who moved away from his vision and instead onto a class war, union promotion, and bigoted bullying. Blacks no longer trust the media for good reason. They knew they had been sold out and lied to after King’s death. These bad actors were involved in a scheme the broader black community wanted no part in. Unfortunately, apathy has afflicted multiple generations.

The good is gone and we have only the bad actors and the ugly apathy.

It is going to take seeing good black role-models, successful businessmen, mothers heralded as good examples as well as seeing the bad — murderers, teens making poor choices, and more to allow the content of one’s character be chief among all factors another considers. We still evaluate people first by the presumption of gender, race and which side of the Mason-Dixon line they were raised on because we were unable to complete King’s healing ministry. Because the conversation turned to a class war, that blacks just happened to be a part of, or a workers’ struggle, that blacks just happened to be a part of, or this policy or that corporate shake down after an offensive racial stereotype, we’ll continue to see people along racial lines.

It’s not strange that content is hard to judge under these circumstances, no, not at all. It means we’re a compassionate, caring people. But it is counter-productive toward our shared end goal: equality for all.

No more strikes, no more silly banners, no more pieces of economic legislation deemed “supported by the blacks”, no more jumping first to hate crimes, no more quick labeling of opponents as “racist”, no more commentators that are paid to line their pockets when a “conversation on race” breaks out because of some tragedy that is usually more complex than color A hating color B.

There may have or may have not been, depending on your politics, a time for some of these things. But not now. Now, we would do well to judge everything by content. It is the only context which allows us to close the past, own the present for all its blessing and faults, and reach the future.

In King’s last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, he asked that his funeral not note any of his honors or awards, but instead his Christian duty — “feed the hungry,” “clothe the naked,” “be right on the [Vietnam] war question,” and “love and serve humanity.”

More than a black civil rights leader, King was a decent man with good character. We should all aspire to be judged so.