Almost a half-century ago, Martin Luther King, delivering a speech at a rally that President John Kennedy implored civil-rights activists not to hold, told his countrymen that African-Americans wanted “in” on the American Dream.
“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir,” King explained in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Today’s national holiday celebrates the nation transcending a problem not confined to a region, political outlook or race. The exclusion of some Americans from the American Dream was an American problem. This is controversial among those who imagine their region, outlook or race as forever on the side of the angels.
The same Left that derides notions of “American Exceptionalism” itself exhibits a Left Exceptionalism on racism. The New Harmony commune’s exclusion of African-Americans, labor union cries of a “yellow peril,” Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s address to a Ku Klux Klan meeting and likening of Aborigines to chimpanzees, and the Communist Party’s expulsion of Japanese-Americans during World War II demonstrate that the same racism that afflicted the surrounding society also afflicted the Left.
So, too, did it afflict the Democratic Party, which sent just one African-American to Congress prior to Pearl Harbor, disproportionately included in its ranks the opponents of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, and as recently as 1989 had a former Ku Klux Klan Exalted Cyclops as its leader in the U.S. Senate.
Though numerous factors have made America the more racially tolerant country dreamed of by Martin Luther King, one overlooked force making the American Dream more inclusive is that which made the American Dream possible in the first place.
A truly free market works as an antidote to racism. Though contemporary radicals would vociferously deny this, their forebears vociferously charged capitalism with negating racism.
The Socialist Party’s national committeeman from Texas noted: “You know that capitalism never examines the color of the skin when it buys labor power and I have seen white men walking the streets of the city of Dallas side by side with Negroes when the heat of summer was such that if the Negro could ever be offensive to a white man he must have been then. Moreover I have seen WHITE and BLACK working thus under A NEGRO FOREMAN.”
Appeal to Reason, perhaps the most widely read radical publication in American history, equated socialism with segregation and capitalism with integration.”Capitalism has forced [the white worker] to work side by side with the Negro, and for about the same wage,” Appeal to Reason decried, “in the SIGHT OF THE CAPITALIST ALL WORKERS LOOK ALIKE.”
The socialists were right. Capitalism and racism can’t long peacefully coexist.
Businessmen motivated by racial solidarity rather than profits won’t stay in business. Landlords limiting tenants by race, storekeepers limiting customers by race, foremen limiting workers by race limit themselves just as they limit those they discriminate against. In a competitive system, this is called a competitive disadvantage. Other landlords, storekeepers, and foremen not hamstrung by bigotry will benefit by widening their pool of tenants, customers, and workers.
This is not an abstract proposition. The Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott is one of many examples of money trumping bigotry during the civil rights movement. In the free market, it’s not about black or white or yellow. It’s about green.
Strangely, so many genuinely concerned about racial discrimination see the free market as an enemy rather than an ally. Let them be reminded of what Martin Luther King said: “Let freedom ring.”