Opposing Affirmative Action is consistent with the vision of equality articulated in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream of a colorblind America.

Today’s Guests Are:

Reverend Wendell Anthony: President, Detroit Branch of the NAACP. Reverend Anthony is currently serving his 7th term as President of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, the largest branch in the country. Reverend Anthony is the former Co-Chair of the Detroit Fair Banking Alliance, responsible for negotiating over $7.2 billion in economic development with local banking institutions. In March of 1996, he founded the Fellowship Chapel Health Care Clinic in Cape Coast, Ghana, providing medical service to children and adults throughout the central region. He has served as a member of the Detroit Building Authority since 1994, overseeing the construction and various building programs within the city of Detroit. Currently, he serves as the Citizen Trustee for the Detroit General Retirement System Pension Fund, managing a pension fund of nearly three billion dollars. Reverend Anthony has also served as the chairman of the Citizens Review Panel, which was formulated to study and to make recommendations for new policies and procedures on the use of less-than lethal force by the Detroit Police Department. In November, 2000 he founded the Freedom Institute for Economic, Social Justice and Political Empowerment, which sponsors Freedom Weekend annually in the city of Detroit. And, he is the developer of the Isuthu Institute (Coming into Manhood Program) for boys ages 6-18, dealing with black male responsibility. It is one of the oldest mentoring programs of its kind in the country. He also initiated the Intonjane Institute (Coming into Womanhood Program) for girls ages 6-18.

Heaster Wheeler: Executive Director of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP: In this appointed position (since October 1999), Heaster Wheeler has tackled major issues including: juvenile justice, driving while black, employment discrimination , the take over of Detroit Public Schools, and voting rights and voter intimidation issues. Early in 2003, he was appointed by Governor Jennifer Granholm to serve on the Michigan Land Use Leadership Council and contributed to a set of recommendations impacting urban revitalization, transportation, land use and sprawl.In 2003, Mr. Wheeler helped coordinate and lead 57 buses to Washington D.C. and the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to demonstrate in support of Affirmative Action. He also helped organize 15,000 people in the 40th commemoration ‘March Down Woodward’. This was in memory of Dr. Martin Luther Kings’ March on Washington and the 1st rendition of ‘I Have A Dream’ in 1963.

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MYTH: Opposing Affirmative Action is consistent with the vision of equality articulated in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream of a colorblind America.

FACT: Contrary to what critics of affirmative action contend, Dr. King actually supported affirmative action policies! In this respect, he wrote that “a society that has done something special to harm the Negro should now do something special to help him” — otherwise equality will remain out of reach. Treating similarly situated people differently is un-American. But taking race and gender into account to dismantle systemic forms of discrimination represents nothing more than an effort to promote equal opportunity.


Read more about the REAL Dr.King in Professor Michael Eric Dyson’s powerful book. Get it here.

Affirmative action’s opponents claim that they symbolize the contemporary embodiment of Dr. King’s colorblind vision for the future of America — the vision he championed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the historic “March on Washington.”

In reality, they do not embody the values he stood for. His dream, after all, did not embrace the idea that one could eliminate racial inequality by ignoring race in contemporary America. Nor did he assume that one could promote equality by treating people in decidedly different situations as though they were similarly situated. The roots of that perspective are actually steeped in the long standing tradition of resistance to equality measures for Blacks in the United States.

In this regard, it should be noted that virtually every effort to lift the burden of racial iniquities in American society has been denounced as a form of preferential treatment. Supporters of slavery resisted plans to free those held in bondage on the grounds that they unfairly took away the slaveholders’ property interest in the slave and redistributed property to the slave. In the aftermath of slavery, proposed laws creating a right to nondiscrimination in contracting and property transactions were vetoed and denounced by Andrew Johnson, the sitting American President, as undeserved forms of special treatment that “favored” the freedmen. Black demands to end American style apartheid in public accommodations were repudiated by a hostile Supreme Court that framed their integrationist aspirations as an unfair attempt to secure a degree of social equality that they had not yet earned. Similarly, Brown v. Board of Education was critiqued by some prominent constitutional law scholars as an unjustified preference for Black school children to associate with whites which conflicted with the white school children’s right not to do so. Even the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished involuntary servitude, was said by segregationists to compel them to behave in ways that were fundamentally unfair.

The rhetorical deployment of the idea that race-based policies that serve to eliminate discriminatory practices somehow advantage their beneficiaries has long been a standard tactic on the part of those who seek to subvert programs designed to redress racial iniquities in the US. As such, anti-affirmative action critics pay homage not to Dr. King, but to Americans throughout history who have refused to provide fair opportunities to people of color on the grounds that such policies actually operate to advantage minorities over their white counterparts.


The truth is that Dr. King supported affirmative action. Where special measures had been used to harm minority Americans, he advocated the use of targeted race conscious initiatives to level the playing field. Indeed, consistent with his expansive conception of social justice, he called for special programs to remedy all sorts of discriminatory practices including race, gender and class concerns.

We all like to see ourselves as on the side of the gods. Few in modern America claim to be against fairness and equality. In this setting, challenges to the status quo, more often than not, are met with the charge that they privilege those who traditionally have been on the margins of society. Not only is this a false claim, it misses the point. Our primary concern should be whether or not the status quo is actually operating “fairly.” Dr. King certainly understood this reality. He maintained that where the status quo unfairly serves the interest of the members of dominant groups, we must treat the privileged differently than the disadvantaged so as to promote a genuine vision of equality in the United States.

Confronted with vehement opposition to social change, Dr. King called for programs designed to completely eradicate the racial barriers faced by those on the margins of American society. He rejected what he called the “bootstrap philosophy.” In this regard, he argued as follows:

Now there is another myth that still gets around: it is a kind of over reliance on the bootstrap philosophy. There are those who still feel that if the Negro is to rise out of poverty, if the Negro is to rise out of the slum conditions, if he is to rise out of discrimination and segregation, he must do it all by himself. And so they say the Negro must lift himself by his own bootstraps.

They never stop to realize that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. The people who say this never stop to realize that the nation made the black man’s color a stigma. But beyond this they never stop to realize the debt that they owe a people who were kept in slavery two hundred and forty-four years.

It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice. (Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution” in “A Knock at Midnight: Inspirations from the Great Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King 211” (Clayborne Carson & Peter Holloran, eds. 1998).


America sees itself as the land of opportunity. We like to think of our country as one in which hard work, talent, and dedication are all that is needed to succeed. But, our history reflects the denial of opportunity to a members of a wide range of groups. Affirmative action programs serve to offset this process of exclusion.

Mythbusting Homework:

When opponents of affirmative action use Dr. King’s language out of context, they are being hypocritical.

How would you describe the reasons why this is so?

Do you think the civil rights movement has gone far enough? Have we achieved Dr. King’s dream of equality?


The critics of affirmative action have not truly embraced Dr. King’s legacy. As we have shown throughout this series of discussions, the reality of America today falls far short of Dr. King’s dream. Accounting for and correcting this reality is not only consistent with the values of fairness and equity, it is a moral imperative.



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