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.
That line has been misused more than most famous quotes in American history. I would say more, but it’s been said much better and more clearly by Mark aka Gandalf Mantooth over at his way-cool blog – Dork Nation.
However, a lot of people forget the speech was more than the one sentence when quoting MLK. He called the “new militancy” “marvelous.” He said “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
The speech has a context, and some people would seem to want to wrest the speech from its context by using that one sentence as a rhetorical tool. Most people who use it are aware of the reverence paid King by many here. The man has a President’s holiday for f***’s sake. You may well have the same heartfelt attachment to the quote and it’s perceived everyman/woman sentiment. You may have the best of intentions. However, when some right winger like George Will or Limbaugh is tut-tutting people of color about Affirmative Action or something and drags out The Quote, it smacks of smarmy condensension. It says “See, your greatest leader agrees with me, so there! Nyaa, nyaa, game over.”
My favorite Martin Luther King quote I dedicate to my late friend Nick. He lived this one every day.
The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.
Martin Luther King Jr., ‘Strength to Love,’ 1963