The Content of Their Character

On August 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his iconic “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It included these oft-repeated words:

I have a dream that my four little children will 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.

While it’s easy to see the color of skin, it’s hard to see the content of character.  Things have improved somewhat, with a president whose skin color is darker than that of white Americans, with dark-skinned men and women on television and in academia.  Things haven’t changed all that much, with black kids stopped on the street by the millions and presumed to be thieves in the finest stores.

But what of the content of their character?  It occurred to me some years ago that the internet held a special opportunity. We could read the words a person wrote, the ideas a person conveyed, without having the slightest clue whether the person was black, white or green.

Online, we all look the same.  No one is black or white.  No one is male or female.  No one has a beautifully-made bespoke suit to dazzle all comers when contrasted with the pajama-clad home officer lawyer.  Before the blawgosphere existed, there was little chance that a solo criminal defense lawyer would cross paths with the general counsel of Sun Micro.  Other than having tables near each other at Bouley, we existed in different spheres.  Today, we’re cyberneighbors, and I can knock on his door anytime I please.  He can ignore me, but at least I know where he lives.

So there you are, a dream come true. Which raised the question, what have we made of it?

Now that there is a medium where skin color doesn’t get in the way, how has this content of character thing worked out for us?  I hesitate to write these words, as I am so very disinclined to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I would venture to say that it hasn’t panned out very well.

Back in 1963, there were men like Martin Luther King, Jr., willing to risk their lives for a cause they believed to be just and right.  They were deemed subversive by the most powerful, and required constant investigation lest they bring down this great nation by demanding racial equality.  Ultimately, it cost Martin Luther King, Jr., his life, just as it would cost the lives of others, including the freedom riders, who believed that a cause was worth the risk.

Who are today’s freedom riders on a colorless internet?  The vast majority of passionate voices today aren’t concerned with freedom or justice, however they perceive those words. Rather, they are the voices of money.  While they may not be screaming hop on the freedom money train or get left behind, that’s the real message.

The content of our character is pretty damn empty: success, financial and fame, prominence and importance. From the number of twitter followers to the last generation iToy to reality television to find a mate or get kicked off an island and onto the View. To walk the red carpet and show one’s fingers on the mani-cam.  White Kim Kardashian may marry black Kanye West, but the content of our character is demonstrated by the fact that anyone cares about Kim Kardashian under any circumstances.

People gave their lives to pursue King’s dream, that someday people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.  And we’ve proven ourselves undeserving of their sacrifice.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., thought that people, if they could only move beyond racism, were worth his efforts and life.  The least we can do in remembrance of him is to try to do better with the content of our character. Or was King wrong about us, all of us, all along, and we are undeserving of his sacrifice?

16 thoughts on “The Content of Their Character

  1. william doriss

    Nevermind Kardashian, I like the content of Lindsey Lohan’s character better. Seriously, it would be nice if the content of character were more readily discernible than it is,… apparently? It’s a bygone era, and we’re on the edge of another, new abyss. Let me say this about that today: The South has made tremendous strides; the North, contrariwise, may have regressed. Who woulda thunk? “We’re always fighting the last battle.” And, “actions speak louder than words.” Unless your name is Carl David Cedar.

      1. John Barleycorn

        You should go back and re-link the video in that link linking a post link. The video link in the referenced link is a ghost link and only the crazies understand the advantages of being a standing ghost.

          1. John Barleycorn

            The video in the post Stand for Something or Stand for Nothing needs to be re-embedded from a different source.

            Curious minds feel betrayed by the intertubes and you seeing as you don’t link your own posts too often…

            1. SHG Post author

              No, I didn’t go with the drop kick murphys version. I went with the Nancy Marchant version. I’m traditional.

    1. Mark Bennett

      This new world has made the content of more people’s character easier to see than ever before. It’s not that people are more venial, but that their veniality is more on display.

      1. SHG Post author

        It used to be that veniality was frowned upon, and those who were venial tried to hide it to avoid the censure of their neighbors. Today, entire communities exist to promote and share venial purposes, allowing it to blossom and grow.

        1. william doriss

          Trying to square Mark Bennett’s comment above with SHG’s response?… When all else fails, we go to the dictionary. The "venial sin" is "a sin that is relatively slight or that is committted without full reflexion or consent, and so according to Thomist theology does not deprive the soul of sanctifying grace."

          So my question is, what are we talking about here? If veniality and venial sins are so slight as to merit no particular censure, what is the problem? And where are all these communities which "exist to promote and share venial purposes"? I want to go there and join one of those!?!

          1. SHG Post author

            Looking forward to watching the Real Housewives of Des Moines isn’t of the sort that “deprives the soul of sanctifying grace.” Well, maybe, but I might be in the minority on that one. That doesn’t make it “so slight as to merit no particular censure.” There is still a chasm of veniality in which to fall.

            As for where these communities exist, try reddit.

  2. Marc R

    Objectively, MLK would see a world where Mandela ruled ZA, and Obama and Holder are the president and attorney general. Race-wise we definitively made great strides. You raise great points about society’s more regressing but that’s a sign of technology juxtaposed with careers of the leisure class. Do you think if the trade were available, we would be better off as a racist society but otherwise educated and moral?

    1. SHG Post author

      I reject the idea that such a trade off would be necessary. As for why we have regressed to an increasingly vapid society, I agree that technology has played a significant role, but it’s just allowed us to be what many human beings want to be. Empty, worthless, stupid, pointless blobs.

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