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Radical Moderate: The Struggle for Martin Luther King’s Legacy

As matters of race continue to grip the American consciousness, there have been commendable efforts to clarify and correct the historical record on slavery, the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, Confederate statues, and the complicated legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Activists and liberal commentators claim that Dr. King’s legacy has been whitewashed by conservatives and white society. Central to this argument is the use of his more radical works to rebut the mainstream’s identification with King and the reassuring tenor of his “I Have A Dream” speech.

King did indeed hold fervent social and economic views of which many Americans are unaware. But recent attempts to reclaim King as an identity-driven radical rather than a values-driven one rely upon the same selectivity they seek to correct. They ignore the centrality of the American gospel to King’s message, and overstate King’s most leftwing impulses so that he might serve as a precedent for modern activism’s divergent separatist ethos. But would a white supremacist nation really lionize such a fiercely empowered black man? One reason King, of all activists, stands firm on the National Mall today is because of his unshakeable belief—absent from the modern social justice establishment—in America’s redemptive capacity.

Assessing legacies are often attempts to seek objectivity in the subjective, especially when it comes to words like ‘radical.’ In today’s social environment, conservatives may claim that King was a radical for the prominent role his faith played in his activism within a greater secular culture. Leftists, on the other hand, have claimed that King was a radical for his socialist inclinations, his dovish foreign policy views, and his frustration with white society. History has certainly oversimplified King, just as it has oversimplified virtually every other leading figure in history. But the further claim is that our valorization of King is dishonest because it does not pay adequate tribute to his most controversial views.

This is the crux of the overcorrection of King’s legacy. We do not honor figures nationally because of their ideology or memorable bon mots. We honor them—from Washington and Lincoln to Kennedy and Reagan—because they led with distinctly American values that transcend identity, party, and policy ideals. We honor them because, in a very literal sense, they remind us of who we are as Americans and of the genuinely novel ideas upon which America was founded.

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Discussion of King’s legacy creates conflict whenever the apolitical principles of freedom, equality, justice, and independence are conscripted into supporting or opposing particular policies. Since the heirs of King’s worldview are today politically and ideologically aligned with the Democratic Party, this empowers some to argue on moral grounds that the policies King advocated are the only policies capable of realizing his vision. This mindset is making a significant contribution to the polarization of our political discourse.

Take, for example, the euphemistic pinwheel of ‘economic justice,’ or the admirable pursuit of a sustained correlation between wages and productivity. Some still argue that this can only be attained with the (democratic) socialism and the nationalization of industry for which King once advocated. King may well have believed that such a rigidly ordered system would deliver economic justice, but history indicates that sustaining it invites precipitous corruption and crippling administrative coercion. Equality would be pursued at the expense of the more fundamental ideals of liberty and justice to which King was committed and for which he fought.

King died five years before the most egregious consequences of this project were finally revealed to the world in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s seminal The Gulag Archipelago, a thoroughgoing firsthand account of the Soviet Union’s forced collectivization programs. This was a system born of resentment and the subsequent enslavement and genocide of those accused of unearned privilege. King also died over a decade before the beginning of one of the free market’s greatest achievements: the reduction of the global poverty rate, according to the World Bank, by 80 percent over the next three decades.

Nevertheless, King did offer some elaborate and valid criticisms of capitalism, particularly southern corporatism. At the conclusion of the March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, King offered a lucid analysis of state-sanctioned segregation as a “political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests” to divide the powerful voting bloc of poor whites and blacks who had united for higher wages during the Populist Movement. Business was able to exploit workers with the help of a government that used Jim Crow to pit black and white southerners against one another. But King’s often compelling critiques of the existing economic system and the Vietnam War were hardly unusual criticisms in their time. It does King a disservice to argue that those positions and the policy recommendations he supported were his greatest contributions to the nation, let alone a unifying credo for which any figure should be honored on a national level.

First, let’s consider the ways conservatives choose to remember King. In a 2006 report for the Heritage Foundation entitled “Martin Luther King’s Conservative Legacy,” Carolyn Garris  conceded that King was “no stalwart Conservative,” but that “his core beliefs, such as the power and necessity of faith-based association and self-government based on absolute truth and moral law, are profoundly conservative.” Conservatives, Garris continued, share King’s belief that the “goal of America is freedom.”

Conservatives also praise King’s early advocacy of thrift and self-help within the black community. In a 2002 essay for City Journal entitled “Where King Went Wrong,” Joel Schwartz remarked that King Sr. “personally exemplified this classically American spirit of self-improvement” and had relied on “a muscular work ethic, spartan self-discipline, and a devotion to education to propel him into the black middle class.” He writes with approval of King’s rejection of the view that jobs requiring little or no skill were not worth taking: “Whatever your life’s work is, do it well,” King said. “If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures…”

By 1967, having lost faith in the capitalist system, King muted his emphasis on self-reliance yet in his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, he writes that if blacks practice fiscal prudence “the Negro will be doing his share to grapple with his problem of economic deprivation.” So, it is with some disappointment that Schwartz acknowledges King’s turn toward government welfare as a means to help poor blacks in the years before he was assassinated. And, of course, there is the overeager appreciation of King’s nonviolence doctrine by conservative personalities like Sean Hannity, who disingenuously sing its praises when police killings of unarmed black men spark riots in black communities.

For many on the Left, all this is untenable. They view the conservative remembrance of King as a means of redacting the brutality he and the wider civil rights movement endured in their pursuit of equality. They see the twisting of King’s words to excuse a form of colorblind racism that defangs King of his most radical qualities. They see a heavily cropped image of King that conveniently disregards his socialist sensibilities, such as his calls for wealth redistribution, a guaranteed annual wage, and the nationalization of industries. They see conservatives appropriating King’s legacy even as they promulgate policies that the Left contends harm black Americans. They see conservative support for his doctrine of nonviolence doctrine as encouraging servility and the can-kicking of reform. And in conservative calls for unity, they hear an echo of the letter written by eight white Alabama clergymen, who agreed with King’s ends but rejected and denounced his confrontational means.

The March on Washington, 28 August, 1963.

To some black Americans, this selective recognition of King’s legacy smacks of opportunism and appropriation. While a judgement about which of King’s words and deeds were the most valuable is obviously subjective, many conservatives have simply got King wrong on the facts.

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In order to argue that King, were he alive today, would certainly oppose affirmative action, some conservatives have cited his “Dream” speech wherein he expresses his hope for a nation in which his four children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The American historian Taylor Branch, author of a trilogy on King, has said that conservatives “want to claim they understand Dr. King better than Dr. King did.” In fact, King endorsed affirmative action in 1965, saying, “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro.” Asked during a lengthy interview with Playboy magazine that same year if he thought it fair to request government programs that provide preferential treatment to blacks, King responded, “I do indeed. Can any fair-minded citizen deny that the Negro has been deprived?”

The problem is that conservatives read King’s line about character in isolation, stripped of the context provided by the rest of his writing, and understand it to be the means to the Promised Land of inter-racial harmony. Progressives understand the line as an end which can only be achieved by the means of policies like affirmative action. The equality endorsed by conservatives tends be to be equality of opportunity, not outcomes. The freedom in which progressives tend to believe is the freedom from other people’s freedoms.

Further efforts to widen the narrow conservative understanding of King’s work extend to his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written after he had defied a court injunction on a series of coordinated marches and sit-ins that took place during the Birmingham campaign of 1963. The letter is frequently cited as a body blow to the Kumbaya perception of King and his dream, in particular King’s powerfully stated thoughts on white moderates:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler [sic] or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.”

This passage expresses King’s frustration with moderates reluctant to invest in the movement’s “constructive, nonviolent tension.” Today, it is often plucked out of context by some on the Left and misused in the same way that conservatives misuse King’s line about character. While conservatives tend to distort or falsify King’s words, progressives tend to amplify King’s tribalism and discard everything else. Those who most stridently implicate individual whites in society’s ills will also use King’s words to shame anyone who does not subscribe to their remedial policy preferences or who refuses to adopt their adversarial and absolutist rhetoric. This has resulted in progressive groups like the Women’s March and small but destructive insurgencies on college campuses branding themselves as moral arbiters of politically transcendent truths when, in fact, they have just bundled a range of hardline—and arguably incongruent—progressive positions together.

Perhaps the temperature is finally cooling down. The most illiberal wing of the Left are experiencing a backlash from students who want to learn as the wider public tunes out the flagrant hypocrisy that accompanies the misuse of identity politics on the Left and the Right. Even intersectionalists are struggling to adhere to their own principles and govern a diverse coalition not unlike the republic itself. The most parochial feminists have remained silent about the Arab world’s systematic oppression of women and minorities, because they do not wish to lend support to neoconservative critiques of Islam. This is but one example of people compromising their integrity simply to put clear distance between themselves and their ideological opponents.

This is hardly an inspiring tribute to the principled and universalist truths King espoused. To the contrary, identity now subordinates principle and even minorities themselves if doing so garners extra credibility among one’s in-group online. But King explicitly applied distinctly American ideas that transcend identity and were rooted in values like salvation, human dignity, justice, and freedom. They were sometimes laced with anger, sometimes with hope, but King led with those values because they precede identity, and they are the sources—not the byproducts—of racial equality.

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For every line in which King spoke about identity and victimhood, there are several more that empower or that reference Scripture, the American creed, or make clear that the aim must “never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.” That quote shouldn’t be used to airbrush King, but his due diligence in articulating that distinction lends him an integrity that is lacking in much of today’s activism. As his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” demonstrates, part of what made King a true radical was, paradoxically, his moderation. Two paragraphs after he had addressed the white moderate, King responded to being labelled ‘extreme’ by writing:

I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation…The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

He continues:

I have tried to stand between these two forces. Saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist…And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies—a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

This was the strategy of “the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest” and it was a form of extremism King was, at first, reluctant to embrace. But he went on to ask:

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

The focus on confronting specific forms of racism, on suppressing violent impulses, and not returning white prejudice is a form of discipline that can only be sustained by those daring enough to frustrate the few to advance the cause for the many. King overcame by recognizing that the path to justice is not a passive crawl or a vengeful sprint. Instead, progress is a methodical march that proves a noble end can only be achieved by an equally noble means. He understood that this meant abiding by the code of character one deserves, not the code of character to which one is ruthlessly subjected.

This attitude can be contrasted with that of a figure like Malcolm X who—partly due to an intellectually turbulent life that led him from black supremacist to self-creationist—did not possess the characteristics that raised an originally unassuming King to the forefront of the civil rights movement: a consistent philosophy, a commitment to nonviolence, and an unwavering belief in American redemption. His two greatest contributions are as narrow as they are deep. First, he was an inspiring orator breathing self-determination, self-worth, and as King wrote, “somebodiness” into black children and communities. Second, he articulated the seething anger black Americans felt about anti-black racism and the moderate strategies to confront it.

Malcolm X

One might argue that King accomplished both of these things through his writings on self-reliance, his invocation of faith, and his calls for “radical changes in the structure of our society.” But, all told, Malcolm X will be remembered for bringing an intense heat to racial politics that disowned American identity and appealed to blacks’ hearts over their minds. King, on the other hand, harnessed that heat and added light. Rather than seeing the two as mutually exclusive, King saw them as interdependent and was able to justify his mind with his heart and his heart with his mind.

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Two of the recurring and foundational themes in King’s sermons, speeches, and writings are those of God and American values. Over the past two decades, liberals and progressives have either been inept at discussing these things comfortably or, worse, have derided them. The 28 percent of Democratic voters who identify as non-religious have an army of secular progressive allies embedded in America’s cultural trinity—entertainment, digital news, and academia—who confirm their biases by excluding religious views and any subculture beyond the boundaries of cosmopolitanism. And, in so doing, the Left has all but ceded the iconography of the flag and the intellectual property of the Founders to their conservative opponents.

This discomfort with threading the moral fabric of America and Christian values into activism has resulted in an intellectually in-bred and sheltered generation that has constructed a like-minded digital ecosystem of exclusive inclusion. Consequently, the identity-driven Left has forfeited any inspirational unifying theme upon which to build its pursuits and broaden its  support. It is not just King’s personal stature or the subtlety of modern racism that has precluded the contemporary Left from emulating his successes, it is leftists’ refusal to do the necessary work of reaffirming and invoking the philosophical commonalities that bind Americans together. They have not done this due to an obsessive-compulsive fear that it will dilute the urgency of their cause, create ambiguity about who the victims are, and place them in intolerable rhetorical proximity to their political adversaries.

These activists, particularly those from the younger generations, have not understood the origin of their own rights or the importance of wielding those rights constructively, and this is producing some troubling data. An alarming number of millennials believe in abridging the very rights that were essential to the march of racial progress. A September 2017 Brookings Institute study found that one-fifth of undergraduates say it is acceptable to use physical force against a speaker who may offend others with their viewpoints. A 2015 Pew Research poll found that 40 percent of millennials believe in limiting speech offensive to minorities. These students are agitating to restrict the rights and protections devised to protect the powerless from authority.

If activists are embarrassed by constitutional norms, religious devotion, and American virtues, then what are the resonant values around which a progressive movement can hope to organise? All that remains is the historically destructive and axiomatically divisive cause of identity. The sooner we can begin cultivating an atmosphere online and in our communities that derives strength from inclusion and commonality, instead of squalid competitions for victimhood and piety, the better. King derived his strength from love, from the God he served, from the progress he led, and from a determination to ensure that America became “true to what you said on paper.” King asked his followers to pray for the Nazi who twice socked him in the face, and it was this resistance to both hatred and passivity was emblematic of the radical moderation that set him apart.

A Black Lives Matter march (2017)

Groups like Black Lives Matter deserve enormous credit for evolving from blocking freeways to lobbying for concrete criminal justice reforms. But any broader movement based on relentless racial contrast and the social capital earned through resentment will only nourish an addiction to instant gratification that does nothing to advance integration, justice, or freedom. Such an approach forgoes hard work for the aesthetics of rebellion. Any movement in which the rights exercised by its heroic predecessors are threatened, the religious are alienated, victimhood is fetishized and ethical consistency scorned, and where the case for justice is not made by those deprived of it, cannot and should not prevail.

Whose hearts can aimless rhetoric move if it is not tethered to anything greater than itself? Is the reluctance to stand for anything really due to paranoia that acknowledging American virtues flirts with a compromising unity? Modern activism would stand to benefit from a message as finely tuned as King’s and as timeless as the American creed. Tying American identity back to the pursuit of justice is not a ploy to inject artificial patriotism nor is it a means to dilute the emotion race stirs. Talking about America is central to the pursuit of justice because America’s birthright is justice.

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The enslavement of African-Americans and the often forgotten decades of terrorism thereafter is a great sin of humanity and certainly the gravest sin of America. It is a uniquely American irony that this sin was committed by the first nation to recognize the natural rights of all people. This past, its impact on the black psyche, along with our national miseducation of it, still permeate how society perceives black Americans. But these ingenious American ideals are what set America apart from the rest of the world and allowed such a wrong to be corrected.

The American project was premised on the remarkable idea that the “unalienable rights” outlined in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the United States’ Constitution were not granted by government as commonly misconceived. Rather, they were pre-existing and universal rights earned at birth and—for the first time in human history—they would be formally acknowledged by a sovereign government. Unlike virtually every nation in Europe which had evolved as a consequence of history, America was uniquely, as Margaret Thatcher observed,  “created by philosophy.” What originally did and should define American exceptionalism is not chest-beating nationalistic hubris but an understanding that America is a product of an arrogance that challenged—and still challenges—the standard operating procedure to which every governing force had adhered for centuries. The Founders insisted the world had it wrong: authority does not supersede individual rights. Individual rights supersede authority.

Today, our elected officials and media almost never consider how freedom imposes costs as well as benefits. Freedom isn’t self-sustaining. It breeds inherently imperfect and dynamic societies, yet that’s the daring trade-off the Founders decided to test in an attempt to break away from the tyrannical world order. The still-young idea of individual liberty disperses power rather than concentrating it behind the barrel of a gun or the stroke of an executive’s pen. If we insist on living in a free society and believe in the fruits of integration and inclusion, then we have to actively pursue them in our community.

In 1995, at the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts, a young black woman raised her hand to ask a question of the visiting speaker. “How do you feel about the increased push to have multi-ethnic as a political category?” The question referred to attempts by some activists to broaden the options for the “race/ethnicity” checkboxes on the Census. “I’m sympathetic to the impulse. In the end I guess I don’t agree with the strategy,” the speaker responded. “This goes back to a constant debate about ‘should we pretend we’ve got a colorblind society or, on the other hand, is everything racial, everything tribal?’… I don’t believe in those simplifications.”

13 years later, the speaker would be elected the first African-American U.S. president. This would likely mark the only time in world history that a member of a racial or ethnic group accounting for no more than 14 percent of the population of a nation—a nation that had enslaved men like him for generations—was elected leader. If we teach our history correctly, current and future generations will come to know both the brutality and enduring promise of a nation that remains true to its own novel concepts of justice, personal freedom, and human dignity. Every now and again, people like Dr. Martin Luther King come along to remind us of our American identity and challenge us to retain our high standards.

King could articulate our true moral north with impeccable eloquence, but he was also acutely aware of the inadequacy of a good heart and simply knowing right from wrong. “If in the pursuit of your destination,” Abraham Lincoln asks Thaddeus Stephens in Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film, “you plunge ahead heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp…what’s the use of knowing true north?”

King stands in the colonnade of American and world history as a complicated and flawed man who nonetheless navigated a path of righteousness through chaos with a dignity that helped America to become a more perfect society able to “live with its conscience.”


Robert Showah is a writer and founder of Master Theory. He is based in Austin, Texas.


  1. Adam says

    Can somebody explain equality of outcome to me because I don’t see how it’s possible, I think i’m missing something?

    • cacambo says

      Not sure I can explain equality of outcome to you, but Anatole France did a pretty good job explaining equality of opportunity when he wrote:

      “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.”

  2. dirk says

    Equality of outcome is always wishful thinking ( as in women being for 50% part of government bodies, steering committees, management and so on). Equality of opportunity is something completely different, and also something everybody immediately agrees with, I would think, this as quite opposite to that first policy.

    • Charles White says


      Unions, particularly Public Service Unions, can be added to your list of those wanting equality of outcome. Hence one gets, for example, a poor teacher being paid the same as a good teacher leading to the good teacher wondering why bother.

      I enjoy your comments.

      • Adam says

        Exactly and you can never get equality of outcome because there are infinite differences and the harder you drill down the more they are noticed

        You start off with 50/50 male and female on a board and then it’s noticed that there are not equal numbers of trans women, divide again, then ‘hey’, not enough trans men, divide again, then the straight/gay quota isn’t equal, then you notice that there isn’t an equal number of asexual representation or bisexuals, or POC, or Mexicans, Jewish people, Swedes, Brits and so on and on and on.

        Heaven forbid somebody has a day off and then misses a meeting because that gives privilege to those that were in straight away leading to inequality.

        Can’t have different interests or modes of speaking either because that could mean like-minded people gravitate to each other and disadvantages others.

        The only way everyone could have equality of outcome is if all life was extinguished.

  3. Charles White says

    Very interesting article.

    One question I would pose is whether the reason the right and left both misinterpret King’s words for their own purposes due to King being a relatively young man when he was murdered. Consequently, it is an unknown as to how he would have matured philosophically in later life. Would he have become a Mandela, which is the general belief held, or would he have become a Farrakhan. Would he have developed into a conservative like Sowell or into an Obama. We really do not know because King was at the beginning of his career, as brilliant as that beginning was. This leads to an open interpretation of what he represented. Personally, I think he wanted the equal application of the US Constitution and would have become its defender.

    To a certain extent, the same can be asked about Malcolm X. He had become moderate and was consequently murdered by his former radical associates. We do not know how he would have developed.

    This leads to another question, does Malcolm have a lower profile than King because he was murdered by Black radicals and not by a racist.

    • Evan says

      That X has a lower profile than King because of who the respective assassins were seems like it could be a factor, but not the only one. Malcolm X was murdered in 1965, and King in 1968. Those 3 years constituted a tide change for all movements opposed to anti-black racism in the United States, but those in and outside the Civil Rights Movement. Had X lived a few years longer, he could’ve had just as high a profile. That stated, it’s always been my impression King has a higher profile than X because his movement simply achieved more in material terms, although that isn’t the same as a consensus from the full suite of activists against all forms of anti-black racism from that time.

  4. “The enslavement of African-Americans and the often forgotten decades of terrorism thereafter is a great sin of humanity and certainly the gravest sin of America.”

    These are the kinds of statements that I simply can’t grasp. Prior to the advent of capitalism, most of the world functioned on a slave or feudal economy. I don’t know how the South doing something that most of the world did through most of history can be the “great sin of humanity”.

    Why the South in contrast to Islamic civilizations which flourished for a thousand years under slavery? (Further, the silence of Black Muslims on the history of slavery in Islam is deafening.) Are the reports true that slavery is ongoing in Africa true? Why is some historical event over 150 years old of note, but contemporary slavery is not an issue? (If slavery was wrong, and not, as it appears in a “dialectical” segment of the Left, that only slavery practiced by European Christians is wrong.)

    Second, conditions on Southern plantations were much better than conditions for slaves in other parts of the world. Slavery on sugar plantations, such as in Cuba or Brazil, was practiced in such a way that slaves typically has a life expectancy of 9 years–that is to say–working slaves to death was the standard business practice. In contrast, Southern slavery was designed to insure that slaves lived to work another day. Eugene Genovese’s Roll Jordan Roll does a good job of putting Southern slavery into historical context: it was awful but it was better to pick cotton in Alabama in 1845 than to farm potatoes in Ireland in 1845.

    Likewise, according to the NAACP:

    “From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States. Of these people that were lynched 3,446 were black.”

    In contrast, the US homicide rate went from 15,883 in 2015 to 17,250 in 2016. Most of the increase consisted of “black bodies”, and the causes of the spike have yet to be determined. Some believe it is a direct result of de-policing in the wake of the BLM movement.

    Obviously, lynching and slavery were terrible, and no one in Christendom wants their revival. (ISIS on the other hand has different viewpoint.) However, in historical context, to claim that the American practices of slavery and lynching are the “great sin of humanity” or the “gravest sin of America” is propaganda. Given the number of “racist, sexist, homophobic white men” who died on a battlefield to end slavery, one has to ask how many more lives must be sacrificed to atone for this sin.

    Of the many peoples of the world, all of them have fought at times to liberate themselves from the bonds of slavery. However, its hard to find anyone who is not a European who fought and died to free another people from slavery. I would contend there is more cause for pride than shame in the American history of civil rights.

    • Emblem14 says

      While the call for historical perspective is a valid response to the fetishizing of American slavery as some cosmically unique evil, it still helps to realize that on an emotional and even material level, the fact this very bad thing was a more generalized phenomena is small comfort to anyone whose ancestors were victims of our particular iteration of it or who still believe they’re living with its legacy.

      Plus, when it comes to moral atrocities, “everyone else was doing it” might help explain why it happened, but it comes dangerously close to sounding like a deflection of accountability. Yes, the relative severity and brutality of different slavery regimes varied, but they all clumped into a section of the distribution of human activity we could safely call “abominable”, so parsing the finer details seems beside the point. It also raises the question for why one would want to diminish the moral weight of our participation in such evil by trying to dilute its importance with historical context.

      I understand your overarching point – the world was an unbelievably shitty place in the past, it was systemic, and we actually did a decent job at making progress, so singling ourselves out for self-flagellation is misguided and unwarranted when we should instead be feeling overwhelming gratitude for the costs our ancestors had the pay to make the world a better place for us. Furthermore, the people who want to keep beating that drum are doing it for cynical, ulterior reasons.

      But if you’re trying to tell people they should “stop obsessing and get over it”, you need to be very…delicate with your language.

      • I think the issue of slavery in America is extremely important, important enough to merit honest and critical inquiry instead of pablum and politicized hagiography.

        I don’t think we should stop obsessing and get over it, but I do think historical accuracy and context should be the order of the day, not half-truths and slogans and recycled Marxism.

        And if you want to know what America’s “gravest sin” was, ask a Pole.

      • slandermonkey says

        Slavery had been abolished in much of the “civilized” world already, and the USA had a constitution that by most reasonable interpretations gave equal rights to all people which would include blacks. And, the South was given many opportunities to give up slavery peacefully, but they chose to go to war to preserve slavery.

        It is this combination of historical facts that makes slavery in the USA south particularly vile.

        • asdf says

          Slavery ended in New York in 1827, meaning there were people living in the Union that had known legal slavery in their lifetimes at the time of the civil war.

          Slavery was outlawed in the British empire in 1833.

          Serfdom in Russia wasn’t abolished till 1861.

          It seems to me that the abolition of the slavery/serfdom amongst Europeans took place over a lifetime during the 1800s.

          As far as I can tell the South turned to slavery because white indentured servants would die from Malaria and the like every summer, and black slaves wouldn’t. All the good plantation land was Malarial. It was the same story in the Caribbean and South America where slave treatment was quite a bit more brutal.

          One can think slavery deserves to go in the south in 1860 without thinking Southerners were particularly evil or that out of place with the world of the 1800s. I think they spent a long time building up an economy around a certain model because of the geography/climate and felt trapped in it.

    • ““The enslavement of African-Americans and the often forgotten decades of terrorism thereafter is a great sin of humanity and certainly the gravest sin of America.”

      These are the kinds of statements that I simply can’t grasp.”

      Well NO WONDER you’re a fan of Quillette.

      • And no wonder I actually refer to an academic history on slavery, instead of repeating the Infallible Doctrines of the Progressive Orthodox Church.

        • Which academic history of slavery? You are simply a tired old apologist. Let me guess: Right Wing and Christian and American.

          “Why the South in contrast to Islamic civilizations which flourished for a thousand years under slavery? (Further, the silence of Black Muslims on the history of slavery in Islam is deafening.)”

          Oh, the rich “Muslim” Arabs preferred “White” slaves. More whites than blacks were enslaved under the Arabs.

          “Are the reports true that slavery is ongoing in Africa true? Why is some historical event over 150 years old of note, but contemporary slavery is not an issue?”

          Deflection. Trying to make out that “contemporary” slavery [if it exists] is somehow on par with the slave trade.

          ” (If slavery was wrong, and not, as it appears in a “dialectical” segment of the Left, that only slavery practiced by European Christians is wrong.)”

          Or you don’t like Christian slavery to be mentioned

          “Second, conditions on Southern plantations were much better than conditions for slaves in other parts of the world.”

          A horrendous comment to make. And it is made out sheer bias rather than any historical facts.

          “Obviously, lynching and slavery were terrible, and no one in Christendom wants their revival. ”


          “However, in historical context, to claim that the American practices of slavery and lynching are the “great sin of humanity” or the “gravest sin of America” is propaganda.”

          How so? Other than wiping out 80%+ of Native American, enslavement of mostly blacks was “gravest sin” of America. Even worse than its anti-Communism wars.

          “Given the number of “racist, sexist, homophobic white men” who died on a battlefield to end slavery”

          How many? So how many whites died to end slavery? I am guess not many at all. Maybe one or two here and there… so what do you want for it? A medal?

          ” I would contend there is more cause for pride than shame in the American history of civil rights.”

          For blacks and “leftie” do-gooders yes…

          • I realize that you probably are not interested in the truth, especially when it contradicts your political narrative, but if you turn to Dr. Galloway’s book on the Sugar Cane Industry, as published by Cambridge University Press in 1989, you will discover on pages 115 and 116 corroboration of my assertions.

            It may be that Cambridge University is an Alt-Right front organization spreading fringe conspiracy theories, and Dr. Galloway, as a Canadian professor, is probably part of some South Park-style conspiracy to deprive the American Progressive Left of its precious bodily fluids, but more likely, the cookie cutter propaganda concerning slavery is just that, and the actual historical record is much more nuanced than the Manichean Dualism of Good/Evil in the Progressive Mind.

    • Evan says

      What makes something the greatest sin in the history of the United States of America implies the comparison class for historical sins are ones which happened in the United States. Sins of greater slavery committed by non-Americans outside the United States of America, some of which you’re citing happened before the U.S.A. was even a country, are all irrelevant. You can’t use any of the data you’ve provided to debunk the claim because by doing so you’ve rejected the premise. If you want do that you should just say outright what you don’t like about the article is its implication the U.S.A. is still racist now, or even that racist in the 1960s. That wouldn’t necessarily make you correct, but it would make you honest, which you weren’t being when you wrote the above comment.

      What makes slavery the greatest sin in American history in a way that perhaps doesn’t make the slavery of other countries their own greatest sins is the hypocrisy of it. No other country claimed all men are created equal while enslaving some of them. The United States of America did.

      • asdf says

        What this comes down to is:

        “white people should feel so guilty about slavery that X should be allowed.”

        X is generally a way of arranging public/private affairs in a manner that would be indefensible based on logic, fair play, and typical American values. However, if you hammer racial guilt into somebody then its OK to do something we would otherwise consider wrong.

        We all get slavery was wrong, but we also all get that it was “kind of the way things were”. We understand many of the political, social, economic, and historical reasons that state of affairs existed. We are also glad it ended, in part because changing circumstances allowed it to be ended and in part because of the actual moral choices made by individuals.

        The basic point is that is in many ways irrelevant today. Unless “because slavery” is your only go to for demanding X. White people are tired of having their *outsized* sympathy exploited in that manner. Breaking through “slavery is the worst thing every and the explanation for everything” is necessary.

  5. Emblem14 says

    Obama borrowed liberally from King’s repertoire of preaching idealism and unity that included everyone and flattered everyone’s moral self-image, without letting past or present injustices off the hook, but crucially, offering absolution in equal measure for every judgement passed. He poured America exactly the kind of cocktail that people could swallow – depersonalized, abstracted moral criticism combined with inspirational exhortations to moral goodness – a heroic arc that ordinary Americans could act out and take credit for…by electing him.

    Basically, it’s a gentle, deferential kind of confrontation, the kind a friend who cares about you would deploy, not an enemy who sought your destruction. I never understood the conservative reflex to paint Obama as a divisive racialist in the vein of the black panthers. He was constantly going out of his way to praise american ideals, pushing a redemptive narrative based in old-fashioned american values and kissing white asses whose feathers ruffled at the mere mention that racism still existed in some forms. He was no SJW; he never rhetorically collectivised people by race, or tried to shoehorn racial interests into political monoliths. Plus, he criticized black culture, to other black people’s faces, more than any white person could ever get away with. To listen to some people, it’s as if they didn’t want the first black president to talk about racism at all – as if him winning the election nullified american racism in a single stroke, and so any further discussion of the topic was an inherently cynical ploy to divide people.

    We’re not asking each other the fundamental question of how we envision an ideal society. What would we want our social landscape to look like given the Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance test? What are the ultimate aims of the SJWs? Do their current actions help accomplish those objectives? Do they think they’re making things better, even on their own terms? Same goes for conservatives and those on the right – what are you trying to accomplish? Just low taxes, gun rights and free markets, or a white ethno-state? There is too much ambiguity for people to have impromptu discussions on good faith.

    I can’t be the only person who’s noticed that in all of our current squabbling, ultimate goals are almost never explicitly articulated. Maybe because specificity necessitates solidity, and people don’t want to give up the flexibility and opportunism of being vague. Maybe people haven’t actually thought it through. Maybe most people don’t have coherent visions of a just world and they’re simply reacting to each issue, each circumstance, on a case by case basis with nothing but gut intuition and in-group loyalty.

    The frustrating effect of this generalized blurriness of motives leads to reliance on conspiracy theory and paranoia as the main guides to what you think your opponents really want. If you don’t know for sure, and you can’t trust them to tell the truth, why not assume the worst, right? Political Correctness further obscures people’s willingness to say what they mean in the most accurate and descriptive language. Actual dialogue, in which people can ask each other truly penetrating questions about their principles, values and goals, never really occurs. Where it pretends to occur, all we hear are cheap euphemisms and empty platitudes on familiar tropes like “equality” or “freedom” or “opportunity”, as if those words mean anything without an analysis of how each person interprets their meaning and through what conceptual or ideological framework.

    The dominant actors on both the left and the right are currently pursuing strategies that exacerbate tribalism, collectivism, separatism and fear of the other. What’s the end game? We know, and we’re fools to leave our politics in the hands of people who are driving us over that cliff.

    It will take more voices like King’s who understood the art of “non-threatening” confrontation, in the sense of getting people to really reflect, let their guards down and tell the truth to each other by giving everyone a mutual good to aim for without attacking anyone’s identity, instead of the belligerent, vindictive style that prevails in our current discourse, which does nothing but puts people into a defensive crouch, circling the wagons around their tribe, forestalling the possibility of anything constructive.

    • The political goals of ruling elites consist in enriching themselves while holding on to power. The political goals of elite aspirants is to displace the ruling elites so the elite aspirants can enrich themselves while fending off new aspirants. That is the goal, and that is why they never talk about the goal, and if they do, they dissemble.

      The only question is whether someone is a ruling elite or one of their mouthpieces–then what they are saying is designed to maintain the existing elites in power. If not, then what they are saying is designed to toss the existing elites out. Last, there are those Lenin referred to as “useful idiots”.

      • Emblem14 says

        That may be the ultimate MO of elites in any system, but most people aren’t elites or aspiring elites. I’m also assuming (perhaps wrongly) that most people in the west share the same basic core values, and our current mode of belligerent, polarizing discourse is obscuring that. If there was a way to make that less obscure, we could both marginalize extremism more effectively by exposing it for the fringe that it is, and build more solid political coalitions around more widely shared goals. This also optimistically assumes the functionality of a democratic process to fulfill the goals of popular political movements.

        Our “culture war 2.0” polarization is a function of artificial conditions imposed on us by the false sense of close proximity, and vulnerability, to things/people we despise that social media creates, coupled with a particular economic model of information production, distribution and consumption that is driven by algorithms which are optimized for psychological manipulation based on the most effective triggers for human attention – negative emotion prompted by threat, fear, disgust etc. And we’ve trained these algorithms to attune themselves to feeding us exactly the kind of information that maximises our negative emotional responses, since that corresponds to maximised engagement with the content to the benefit of advertisers, who finance this model.

        If we could all wake up to how we’re being played by our information delivery systems, and more importantly, come up with a model that doesn’t depend on optimizing for conflict and negative emotion, it would go a long way toward lowering the temperature.

    • Bill says

      I feel President Obama got himself painted as a radical in the spirit of the Black Panthers simply because those who purported to speak for him (his party) denigrated and slandered anyone who disagreed with his policy as a racist whitey. It’s the same behavior his party used in labeling “deplorables” and continues today with the Left calling anyone who didn’t vote for the Almighty Clinton as a racist Nazi misogynist (even if they happen to be a Jew or Black or female).

      The irony is that the Left labels Trump as racist because he only disavowed Duke 7-8 times and not the 12-15-10,000 times he was repeatedly asked to, but they never asked Obama to disavow the proclamations by his Party that those who agreed with him on policy were doing it “because he’s a black man and they’re racist.”

      • @Bill

        “he only disavowed Duke 7-8 times”

        Factually incorrect. He refused to distance from Duke until he had to. And it wasn’t just him. His boy was also colluding with the white nationalists.

        And how about he fact that he was twice convicted of discrimination against blacks for not renting to them?

        “denigrated and slandered anyone who disagreed with his policy as a racist whitey.”

        Make belief.

  6. dirk says

    The human conditions (medical care, health, housing and food) of slaves in the South were also much better than those of the working class in the northern states, averaga lifetime was also something like 5 or 10 yrs higher. But such knowledge cannot be framed in any interesting history or novel, therefore, has no future, does not exist, is oblivious.

    • dirk says

      Guess what I read today in my Dutch newspaper? An advertisement for a Mississipi cruise, from Memphis to Nw Orléans, in a Paddlewheel boat. Included a visit to an old cotton plantation, by a guide, dressed up in white slaveowner’s outfit, who tells the cruisers about the situation on those plantations once: forced labour in chains, 16 hours daily, no medical care, bad food and housing, etc etc. This all brought in a pleasant, entertaining tone, everybody (whites and blacks(??)) on board will agree, and feel pity with those miserable slaves of once. So ,was I wrong then in what I said above?? Or is the talk on the cruise nonsense? Nobody will ever know. Some details: there is Wifi on board, private balconies, splendid, breathtaking scenery, but even the paddlewheels are fake, because the boat is driven by modern Diesel motors, the paddles only go round for the nostalgic feelings. The boat also passes by in Vicksburg. I wonder what type of entertaining talks the tourists are presented there, I can’t believe anything trustworthy!! For, after all, historical truth does not exist! Cannot exist!

  7. LOL – well there’s a surprise, alt-right Quillette claiming that MLK was really a conservative. Meanwhile Quillette is firmly on the side of those who agree with Charles Murray that blacks are innately less intelligent than other “race” – and then they go a step further by publishing “biosocial criminologists” who believe that blacks are innately more criminal than other “races.” The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

    • Charles White says


      I am trying to figure out how a site that publishes, for example, an article by Stephen Lewis is alt-right?

      Lewis is the son of the former national leader of Canada’s socialist party and was the leader of the Ontario wing of the same party himself. Lewis is the father of Avi Lewis and father in law of Naomi Klein. Finally he is a dedicated globalist who expounded those views as Canada’s ambassador to the UN. Yet, with all those top socialist credentials of Lewis, you suggest Quillette is alt-right when they published his article?

      The extreme left is very scary if they consider Steven Lewis, Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein as alt-right. I imagine you would consider the socialist premier of Alberta literally Hitler because she wants the Trans-Mountain twinned.

      It’s either all that or you don’t know what alt-right means.

    • dirk says

      Nancy: that reminds me of the attack of Cathy Newman in the pathetic meeting with Jordan Peterson: So, what you want to say is that women are less intelligent than men? Peterson leaned back with a sigh after that, and denied to have said so, ever, in a fatigued way, it was very funny.

    • Susan says

      Nancy, please refer me to the article in Quillette that had the position that “blacks are innately more criminal than other ‘races'”.

  8. Nancy – It isn’t difficult to understand why someone would wish to label Quillette an alt-right publication. Leveling a charge of racism – the implicit or explicit white nationalism implied by the nebulous term ‘alt-right’ – has proven an effective drive-by smear. Here, the charge is so reductive as be meaningless. If you’d like to make an argument, knock yourself out. Certainly, there’s a strong case to be made against certain interpretations of Charles Murray’s data.

    • I often wonder what would happen to the world if we evaluated positions based on the empirical data and the cogency of arguments rather than simply calling our opponents pejorative names.

      • Separation of church and state would be a given, definitely a positive. Many marriages would be thrown into disarray creating a strong demand for couples therapy. Good for therapists. University departments offering programs ending in ‘Studies’ would have to be re-thought or thrown out altogether. So a sad day for postmodernism. An interesting thought experiment.

  9. Bill Haywood says

    This article exemplifies a routine deficiency in Quillette: the villains are not named, quoted. or quantified. Take this passage: “progressives tend to amplify King’s tribalism.” Who? When? Is this even possible? Which of King’s beliefs lend themselves to tribalism? Inventing positions to attack without any attribution is just LAZY and bush league.

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      I agree. Too many authors here aim for sweeping generalizations and end up revealing only their own shallowness and intellectual flabbiness.

  10. Mark Turpin says

    After decades of routine discrimination against blacks, why did white america change its mind? Three reasons: Television. Martin Luther King. Non-violence.

    The images of disciplined and well-dressed black teenagers allowing themselves to be mauled by police with nightsticks, dogs, and firehoses simply had the moral force of an earthquake to christian america—especially when the struggle was being narrated by one of the greatest christian orators of all time. There were only a few tv stations back then and everyone saw everything that everyone else saw. The news was always viral.

    When King died in 1968, the prize had been more or less won. Malcom X and the Panthers were free to talk about self-defense and separatism—in the end coming to nothing. It’s been fifty years. The Black Power movement accomplished only one thing and that is: they wrote the history, which is why we still compare the incomparable courage and sacrifice of the civil rights movement with the posturing of the Black Power movement.

  11. Jachin says

    I think that the ironic thing that the article never addressed was that King is so lionized on both the left and the right that both are willing to claim him based different things that he said (there are only a few other people like this, such as John F. Kennedy or Mother Teresa). Dr. King fell apart philosophically in a few key areas, most of which wouldn’t be caught by either the Left or the Right. First, King was not very economically literate, as he advocated for socialism and the creeping welfare state. Second, King spoke as though all black people were monolithic in terms of experience and disposition. His quotes would often in the form of “the Negro is x” or “the Negro has y”. Again, not all of the experiences of blacks were or are the same. Some blacks, no matter how far back you go, never experienced real discrimination, never were enslaved, never were at an economic disadvantage, etc. To ignore the fact that every one is different is a crucial mistake that King made when advocating against racism, which must fundamentally be an individualistic ideology. Third, and probably most radical, is that Dr. King changed something that was better left alone for the time being, that is, segregation. Now, of course, segregation was evil, but that does not mean that removing it at the time would have been beneficial to all concerned. The reason why the King movement was an ultimate failure (not at achieving its goals, but getting its goals to achieve) was that the black community was not in a position to accept less responsibility. What that basically means is that blacks were forced to behave in a way conducive to their own interests, that is, as courteously and respectfully as possible. With the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act, those things were no longer expected of Blacks and so they stopped. The ultimate problem is that the sense of careful responsibility and dillegence that Blacks used to make huge relative strides in the 50’s and 60’s now evaporated in the new sense of freedom, which people often conflate with a lack of responsibility. White America (again, I don’t enjoy these collectivist, non-descriptive words), propelled by King felt the need to “help” blacks, thus starting series of disastrous policies that set African-Americans permanently behind their white counterparts.

    • @Jachin

      You don’t know what you are on about.

      “First, King was not very economically literate, as he advocated for socialism and the creeping welfare state.”

      Advocating socialism and welfare state doesn’t make one economically illiterate. Just becuase one doesn’t agree to your positions…

      “Some blacks, no matter how far back you go, never experienced real discrimination, never were enslaved, never were at an economic disadvantage”

      This is an outright lie and factually incorrect. I suspect you knew that you were lying [making it up] when you wrote this.

      “…King made when advocating against racism, which must fundamentally be an individualistic ideology.”


      “Third, and probably most radical, is that Dr. King changed something that was better left alone for the time being, that is, segregation. ”

      Eh? So earlier you stated “some” blacks never faced discrimination and then say this. Contradictory much. So racism is supposedly “individualistic ideology” but here it is collectivist against ALL blacks. More contradiction.

      “The reason why the King movement was an ultimate failure”

      It wasn’t. He succeeded. A sort of “fact”.

      Let me sum up: you are a failure of education of which ever country you belong to.

  12. I wish people would stop using the Gulag Archipelago as “proof” of anything. It was a fictionalized account propped up by the government during the cold war. Certainly the Gulags were a crime, but that book isn’t a historical account. And lets of course never mention the terrible prisons in places like France around the same time, or even the Guantanamo Bays and Abu Ghraibs of modern times. The real tragedy of the Archipelago is the fact that the Soviets claimed to be a moral movement but still fell into the same ugly human realities, so there was a sense of betrayal by its supporters and an opportunity for America to gain the upper hand it it’s war of propaganda, the legacy of which we still live with today.

  13. dirk says

    What struck me on the commemoration of King’s famous speech last week, was the biblical tone of it, the Go tell it on the mountain (also a novel of Baldwin), the reference to the biblical Exodus (he even mentioned literally that mountain) as the path out of a subservient status, into a walk together of black and white children, it’s a far cry of the resentment and hammering on identity of what we see now, quite different indeed!

  14. Mr. Dilling says

    It’s a great read that deals with the a-political Dr. King who did not openly support any political party. While it is true that he held some views that can be interpreted as conservative views, I think it’s worth mentioning that he was highly critical of both Democrats and Republicans, and that he pointed out racism and prejudice within the ranks of liberals, moderates and conservatives. He was considered to be too radical for even the liberals and was accused of being “A racialist against white people”, being unpatriotic and was on FBI’s list of black nationalist hate preachers. He also referred to America as “a burning building”. You write that he wasn’t driven by identity which is true when we are talking about political identity. But he was driven by another identity that I will split into three dimensions: 1. He was driven by his identity as a Christian. The values that drove him was driven by his personal relationship with God and prayer, communication with God. 2: Growing up as a black individual in a black community attending his father’s black church, going to a black elementary school, a black high school and a predominantly black colleve plus studying black history in his spare time, he was driven by a black identity. 3. Third, he was driven by an African identity. He was very observant of black South Africa’s freedom fight and he called the white rulers “brutes and savages”. In 1957 he was in Ghana celebrating their new freedom from the British colonizers and he had many conversations with prime minister Kwame Nkrumah who invited King personally. In 1965 King was invited to Jamaica to speak as the memory of Marcus Mosiah Garvey was celebrated. It was also in Jamaica that King finished his last book. King emphasized the important of black consciousness and black power as economical and psychological forces of empowerment. He also advocated a progressive school system in which the white dominated curriculums would include black American history. He also recognized the importance of African identity for black Americans. “The Negro child is the child of two cultures-Africa and America. The problem is that in the search of wholeness all too many Negroes seek to embrace only one side of their natures.”

  15. Chester Draws says

    Obama was not close to being the first minority ruler elected. The US is not the world leader in race relations, to put it mildly.

    Disraeli would have a better claim to first. NZ had a Maori PM back in 1911.

    Nor was the US the first to claim all men are equal. Especially as slaves were excluded. Magna Carta makes equally broad claims. Slavery was illegal in Britain for centuries before the US and blacks had the vote, property qualifications being met.

  16. dirk says

    Illegal in England yes, but they made a lot of profit in the slave trade, as did the Arabs, the Dutch, Portuguese, Danes, French and, of course, everybody else who had the guns and the connections, the Ghanese Ashanti Chiefs included.

  17. Paolo says

    Just a few words to express my compliments to help author and to Quillette for an article of outstanding quality. Fraught subject, delivered with handfuls of memorable insights; this stuff is rare.

  18. Lamar says

    >”the aim must “never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.”

    I sometimes wonder if that’s where the mistake was. Why should someone have to beg another to treat them as a human? Perhaps it would have been better to advocate abandoning the society altogether. Nonviolent, but still not putting your people in a position of dependence and needing mercy from groups that had to be CONVINCED to act humanely.

  19. dirk says

    @ Lamar: abandoning society certainly is an option, and is practiced a few times (not very often), e.g. by a Yanamomi wife taken to New York by an antrhopologist, but not being very happy there (which I can imagine) and deciding to return to the bush. In fact, Liberia is an exampe where this happened on a larger scale, not very successful, as far as I know. But if you share a nation, a flag, the law system , the economy, etc etc, abandoning , or even apartheid is no longer optional. It has been tried out, but also not that successful.

    • Ava Dalley says

      Indeed. Besides, black people represent only a tiny portion of the population in Western countries. Plus, African countries are too weak to be of any help. Separation is bound not to work for us.

  20. markbul says

    “King died five years before the most egregious consequences of this project were finally revealed to the world in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s seminal The Gulag Archipelago”

    Good God. The fact that millions had been slaughtered – pre-gulag – was known far before Solzhenitsyn. This is how history is re-written.

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