Recently, The Stanford Daily Editorial Board, of which I am a member, published a piece responding to anti-Black violence and police brutality in America by offering suggested readings, courses and other materials for those wanting to better understand these issues. Instead of signing onto the article, I chose to provide a different perspective, concurring on the need for justice and dissenting on how we achieve it. While some of the writings and courses suggested by the editorial board provide valuable commentary on issues of race in America, others do not.
There have always been two distinct strains in the fight for justice. The first emphasizes the things we have in common: the right to be treated with dignity and the rights to freedom and equality. The goal of this approach is to create a society where, to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., people are judged “by the content of their character” and not “the color of their skin.” This is the approach of classical liberalism, was the backbone of the 20th-century civil rights movement, and culminated in the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s.
The second, promoted by the editorial board, emphasizes the differences between us: culture and skin color as ways to define our identities. The goal of this approach is to sort people into groups. Whether you call this Marxism, intersectionality or any other name, this is the illiberal approach, which has gained popularity among many activists and the college-educated since the 1960s.
Without a doubt, America has fallen far short in adhering to the principles at the heart of its creation, that we are all “created equal” and that we are all endowed with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” What is needed is a recommitment to those timeless values that unite us and can make the great American experiment great for all.
To that end, I recommend the class AFRICAAM 50C: “The United States in the Twentieth Century,” an article in The Atlantic, “What Ails the Right Isn’t (Just) Racism,” Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” a video of his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s speech to a crowd in Indianapolis given in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. King. As to the latter, the words of Dr. King and Sen. Kennedy, and the tenor of the political moment in 1968, resonate today with eerie and tragic accuracy.
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