We’ve all heard at least a portion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Delivered on August 28, 1963 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, this speech is usually summed up by King’s desire to have his four children judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Many people have used this speech to advocate for a colorblind society that ignores or erases our differences in exchange for a homogenous culture and worldview. They feel this leads to an easier, more productive and less divisive society. But in reality this utopian, colorblind society is racist.
In the 18th and 19th centuries as immigrants began migrating to and settling into America, foreign-born immigrants were encouraged to embrace their new world by melting their foreign elements into new, Americanized traditions and beliefs. In this melting, being American became synonymous with being white. Immigrants from European countries were able to melt smoothly into American society, but those who couldn’t be melted into America’s whiteness had a more difficult time adjusting and found themselves marginalized to the outskirts of society. America became synonymous with white, and any and everyone else became hyphenated Americans. African-American. Chinese-American. Mexican-American. Iranian-American.
In the words of Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, “The melting-pot view of the social order is discarded, not only because it is a fictitious construct, [but] because assimilation is a symptom of sociocultural intolerance and imperialism.” When you asks folks to melt or assimilate into your culture, you’re being intolerant of the culture they’re bring. You’re telling them that their culture isn’t good enough or acceptable, that your way of life is better and if they can’t assimilate they will be alienated by society. Claiming to be a colorblind person and desiring to be a colorblind nation comes from a similar family of thought. It attempts to erase or ignore differences, cultures and the very essence of who people are.
King never ran from our differences. But he did advocate for people to be treated equally despite these difference. Throughout King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he addresses differences head on. King discusses the difference between black people living in the south and the north. King sees an America where all are free and united despite religious differences. King imagines a world where children of different races and different socioeconomic backgrounds live and play as brothers and sisters. King didn’t avoid our differences. He didn’t attempt to erase our differences. He emphasized our shared humanity and equality despite these differences.
America’s melting pot theory is inherently racist, exhibiting bias against people of color and those who desire to continue the traditions and practices of their culture. Americans’ obsession with a colorblind society is just as racist. Designed for the comfort of those claiming to be colorblind, not people of color, it chooses to ignore race, ethnicity, culture and DNA because conversations about race, ethnicity and culture makes the colorblind person uncomfortable.
No one wants you to be colorblind. No one wants you to ignore who they are. People want you to see and respect all of them…including their race, ethnicity and cultural identity.
Desires for a homogenous national identity are not only cowardly, but they ignore the strength and richness of diversity. Humanity is not only white, and Christian, and middle class. Humanity is all of us. And the sooner we see, acknowledge and respect the humanity of non-white, non-Christian and non-middle class people, the closer we will be to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. King dreamed of a salad, not a melting pot. Enjoy your salad, America.