Posted on September 17, 2019

Why Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream Is Dead

Douglas Murray, New York Post, September 14, 2019

On Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. said he dreamed his children should “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.” {snip}

At the very moment when the issue of race might at long last have been put to rest, it is now becoming the most important issue of all.

The decades since the 1960s saw the growth of “black studies” in American universities. The courses started out in part as a way of de-stigmatizing the group and educating people about a crucial aspect of their history.

But, just as a popular strand of feminism turned from celebrating women to vilifying men, a portion of black studies started attacking people who were not black. A discipline intended to de-stigmatize began to re-stigmatize. This has led to the growth of “whiteness studies” — a discipline that is now taught at all of the Ivy League universities in the US.

Oxford University’s Research Encyclopedia describes whiteness studies as: “A growing field of scholarship whose aim is to reveal the invisible structures that produce white supremacy and privilege.”

Whereas black studies celebrates black writers and black history, and gay studies brings out gay figures from history and pushes them to the fore, “whiteness studies” is “committed to disrupting racism by problematizing whiteness,” according to Syracuse University professor Barbara Applebaum, who wrote Oxford’s definition. This is to be done “as a corrective.”

Defining an entire group of people, their attitudes, pitfalls and moral associations, based solely on their racial characteristics is itself a fairly good demonstration of racism. For “whiteness” to be “problematized” white people must be shown to be a problem. And not only on some academic, abstract level but in the practical day-to-day business of judging other people. As so often this progression of an idea from academia into the rest of society has found its most notable demonstrations in the world of celebrity.

Consider the case of the actor Armie Hammer. His prominence grew in 2017 with the gay romance movie “Call Me By Your Name.” Hammer himself is not gay. But he is male and white, so when the movie he had starred in started winning critical acclaim and getting nominated for awards, he had no defenses. {snip}


The point of this essay — written by a white woman — seemed to be to attack Hammer not just for being a loser but for being white. “Hollywood would never give up on a guy that handsome, that tall, that white, with a jaw that square,” she wrote. And again: “No one gets second chances in Hollywood the way straight white men do.”


In February 2018, Netflix released its adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s novel “Altered Carbon.” The central plot occurs in the year 2384 and revolves around a character called Takeshi, who has been killed and is then reborn in another body (or “sleeve”) — which is the sort of thing you can always do in the future.

The role of the reborn Takeshi was given to the Swedish-born actor Joel Kinnaman — a decision that was immediately condemned. On the release day of “Altered Carbon,” a Time magazine piece headlined, “Altered Carbon takes place in the future. But it’s far from progressive,” argued that the series felt “downright retrograde” because of its treatment of “race, gender and class.”

According to Time, it was wrong to cast a “white guy” as the person in the reborn body of a character who in a previous life had been “an Asian man.” {snip}

{snip} Clearly if you are going to set a sci-fi drama in 2384, you should expect people in that year to hold the same values as Time magazine’s movie critic in 2018.


In January 2015, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch was interviewed on the “Tavis Smiley Show” on PBS. He used a part of his time to protest that minority actor friends of his in the UK seemed to find it easier to get work in the US than they did in the UK.

Nevertheless, the actor slipped up not on an issue of intent or motive, but on a crime of language. In the course of his remarks, Cumberbatch referred to “colored actors.” This is a term that would have been commonly used with no negative connotations in his home country. Until a very short time before, it was also a common enough term in the US. But shortly before Cumberbatch’s interview, the protocol had slightly shifted.

The new correct way to refer to “colored people” in January 2015 was as “people of color.” Linguistically this may be said to be a distinction without a meaningful difference.

Nevertheless the outcry was almost as great as if he had used the N-word. Indeed, the actor was forced into making an immediate and grovelling public apology: “I’m devastated to have caused offense by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done.”


There was no serious way in which anybody could have interpreted these or any other remarks as racist. But Cumberbatch’s name could now be linked to a “race row.” Rather than focus on his point, which would hopefully generate more casting opportunities in the UK for his friends, a few social-media claims made by language patrollers had ensnared him in a real-life “row.”


Up till recently, any politician, writer or other public figure could proceed fairly well along one pre-agreed line: You should attempt to speak, write and even think aloud in a manner which no reasonable person could reasonably misinterpret. {snip}

But in recent years — overlapping, not coincidentally, with the years of social media — this rule has changed. We can no longer trust that our listeners are honest or are searching towards similar goals. An outburst of insincere claims from members of the public may be made as eagerly as sincere ones. And so public figures must ensure that they write, speak and think out loud in such a fashion that no dishonest critic could dishonestly misrepresent them. {snip}


A fine example of the latter came in August 2018 with the case of Sarah Jeong.


In an official statement, the Times said Jeong had been hired because of her “exceptional work” on the Internet. It went straight on to claim that “Her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. {snip}”


In defense of Jeong, Vox writer Ezra Klein explained that when Jeong uses the term “white people” in her “jokes” it does not mean what it says. As Klein put it, “On social justice Twitter, the term means something closer to ‘the dominant power structure and culture’ than it does to actual white people.”


Cumberbatch got into a “race row” because he used an outmoded term. Jeong got into a race row because over a period of years she had repeatedly used the racial epithets in a derogatory way and appeared to have enjoyed doing so. While some people unwittingly use the wrong term and can be castigated for it (Cumberbatch), others use terms that are so wrong and so extreme and yet no special castigation is due.

This has nothing to do with words and nothing to do with intent, but solely to do with the innate characteristics of a particular speaker. Cumberbatch is white, heterosexual and male. His identity was incorrect. Because of Jeong’s own racial identity and the race she was attacking, she got away with it.

Speech itself has become unimportant. What matters above everything is the identity of the speaker. Rather than ignoring the issue of race it appears that we are going to have to spend the foreseeable future constantly focused on it.

This is an excerpt from the book “The Madness of Crowds” © 2019 by Douglas Murray, to be published by Bloomsbury Continuum on Tuesday.