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Monday, July 15, 2024

We need Dr. King’s wisdom more than ever

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Rep. Andre Carson

On January 15th, 2024, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 95 years old.

Each year – and often throughout the year — we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy. We see his quotes many places, and sometimes we even see his words mistakenly attributed to others.

Sometimes, a superficial use of Dr. King’s words, without considering the context and intent these words, means we do not pause to reflect on the wisdom they still hold today.

I’m proud to be an original cosponsor of the Diversity is Our Strength Resolution of 2024, which recognizes the most enduring lesson from Dr. King – one day, we’ll be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin.  But we still have much more work ahead.

This year, we face grim reminders that despite 38 years celebrating MLK Day, America needs to understand and embrace Dr. King’s message now more than ever.

Dr. King fought, marched, and preached for the inalienable rights of Black people and all oppressed groups, emphasizing that “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” There is no shortage of direct and indirect threats to fairness and freedom today.

Decades after Brown v. Board of Education was supposed to open education for all, there are new and targeted attacks on educational fairness. Universities across the country are slashing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs, and extreme Republican lawmakers – including Indiana candidate for U.S. Senate Jim Banks – continue to call for cuts to DEI programs in government agencies and the military.

I wrote about the dangers of these bad-faith efforts back in August, but things are getting worse. In December, the University of Wisconsin opted to cut back diversity initiatives in a deal with Republican lawmakers, freezing a number of DEI programs. Extremists threatened to cut the school’s budget if administrators didn’t comply. In addition, this month, the first Black woman to serve as Harvard’s president was forced out after opponents claimed she was “just a diversity hire” and lied about her immense qualifications. 

DEI is essential to correct the persistent consequences of centuries of slavery, segregation, systemic discrimination, and the resulting inequities. Statistics clearly show the road to freedom is still blocked by many barriers – lack of access, and disproportionate, systemic exposure to violence and poverty, just to name a few.

The arguments against efforts to increase diversity and inclusion show a fundamental ignorance or a willful lack of understanding why these programs are still needed. Attacks against DEI are matched with another strategy from Republican extremists and white supremacists: Whitewashing history and erasing Black stories. Just this week, a Florida school district pulled over 1,600 books from its shelves. Although no books have officially been banned – yet – the choice of books chosen for “review” is telling: “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” Anne Frank’s diary, and even the biographies of Beyoncé and Oprah.

There is simply no reasonable explanation for book bans, yet ideological censors falsely claim they’re protecting children. They claim books on the civil rights movement – including those that focused on Dr. King – promote “explicit and implicit Anti-American, Anti-White, and Anti-Mexican teaching.”

When Dr. King’s message of non-violence, fairness, tolerance, justice, and equality is considered anti-American, it’s clear these groups want to see a one-sided America – in their favor.

These groups are not hiding their goals. They want to turn back the clock to their good old days, which we know were brutally bad days for us. They advocate for white supremacy. They advocate for sanitizing America’s dark history of slavery and Jim Crow. They advocate for an erasure of our stories, our struggles, and our victories.

If you need more proof of the prevalence of racist attacks, on January 11, 2024, Elon Musk endorsed a post claiming students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have lower IQs and should not be in aviation or pilot development programs. It said such programs were dangerous because HBCU students are unintelligent and unfit to fly airplanes. Elon Musk, head of the platform formerly known as Twitter and a leader in space aviation, endorsed the message, posting, “It will take an airplane crash and killing of hundreds of people for them to change this crazy policy of [DEI].”   

Clearly Elon didn’t learn about HBCU graduates Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, the “Hidden Figures” Black women who worked as human computers in a segregated office at NASA, and who were responsible for America winning the space race to the moon.

President Tony Allen, Ph.D., of Delaware State University, which is home to one of the HBCU aviation training programs said in response, “I would warn us instead against those who masquerade as intelligent, but who, as Dr. King himself warned, lack the hallmarks of the truly educated.  Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of proper education.”

The Black community has always known how important education is to our freedom.  This is what Dr. King fought for. And I will never stop fighting in Congress to end the attacks on our community and our institutions. Instead of being discouraged, I take courage and hope from the activists here in Indianapolis and beyond who continue to fight the good fight. We can find strength in our shared experiences – of pain, shared grief, and our shared resilience from all we have overcome.

And of course, I find courage and hope from the immortal words of Dr. King: “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom.”

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