Martin Luther King Encounters Post-racialism


  • Kimberlé Crenshaw



The election of Barack Obama to the presidency has been widely hailed as evidence that the United States is now a post-racial society, that we have fulfilled Dr. King’s dream that his children would one day be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin. Yet such claims evade the questions of what post-racialism actually is, what it would look like, and how we would know if it were really here. Moreover, the assertion that Dr. King’s dream was that race would never be mentioned rather than that racial justice would become a reality is a perverse distortion of his statements and beliefs. This article challenges the claims of post-racialism by imagining how Dr. King would respond to the celebration of post-racialism if he could be here to see and hear it. Recalling Dr. King’s claim at the March on Washington in 1963 that the “promissory note” issued by the United States pledging full citizenship and freedom for Black people had come back marked “insufficient funds,” this article imagines Dr. King viewing post-racialism as a form of bankruptcy that allows the nation to forever default on its promises. Recalling Dr. King’s exact words from the 1960s and imagining how he would reiterate them today leads to a critique of color blindness as an evasion rather than an achievement, a recipe for disaster because it presents one of our nation’s most serious problems as something that cannot even be named, much less solved.