By the content of their character

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

Martin Luther King

This dream is today accessible to anyone with the good sense to practice it. With the good sense to know and understand the people around them by what goes in inside their heads, for it is that which really defines us. As animals, rational or otherwise, we are mostly similar. The pigmentation of our body’s final barrier against the elements makes very little difference to the direction of our lives, for as long as we have the autonomy to set that direction. That barrier, impervious to water, should not obstruct the exchanges of words neccessary to establish “rational, or otherwise”; and it is that basic distinction that is primary for me in all decisions and judgements of people.

However, just as we should not be blind to the radiant glow of coffee coloured complexions on a summer evening, or to the richness of art and cuisines of other cultures, we should not be blinded to any aspect of the people we choose to deal with. Superficial differences will continue to drive our guesses about whether people are worth talking to, and at this precise moment in history those predispositions remain somewhat justified, for as long as you are happy to generalise. In future people will be less happy to generalise, and their generalisations will be less accurate and people will quickly learn that they are missing out and will make different guesses. This is less to do with skin pigmentation, or genetic stock, as it is to do with large numbers of people coming together and learning from each other, and about each other too. Accepting those generalisations for what they are – efficient approximations – is one thing, but as we learn about each other there will be some kinds of people we learn not to like, and we will learn to identify those people by their words and symbols, and learn what those things mean about the ideas that form the content of their characters. We should be free to reject and ostracise those people as long as we obey the obligation we owe to ourselves not to create new generalisatons that replace the old ones. Those people may be adherents of unseemly religious views, Guardian readers or Labour voters intent on stealing from you, or social authoritarians intent on crushing your lifestyle choices, it doesn’t matter. The freedom to ostracise bastards is equally necessary as the freedom not to be put down by them.

Today, the BBC has recreated Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. In which he dreams that his children will “not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”. One has to ask if the BBC realises that this criteria, once the dream of one set of minorities, is just as likely to cause the ostracisation of other minorities, and that it should.