Today is the national holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. In August of 1963 he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and gave one of the great speeches in American history: I Have a Dream.
It’s worthwhile to not just look at that speech, but also the difference in perceptions in whether his dream has been reached … or not.
This story talks about how the perceptions are still different. For whites, the perception is:
“For most whites the playing field has been leveled and what has cemented this perception in the psyche of most whites was the election of a black president,” adds Dr. Charles Gallagher, Chair of the Sociology Dept. at La Salle University, who studies race and ethnicity. Yet, he adds in an email, “the social science data is unequivocal: institutional racism continues to shape the life chances of racial minorities in America. We have not reached the promised land MLK talked about, but much of white America now believes we have.”
While for African Americans:
Franklin Henderson sits in the darkened Steve Allen Theater, talking about the life he didn’t have to lead because of King.
“We didn’t have a poll tax in Miami, Florida where I grew up or a lot of the other hurdles blacks had,” says the retired, Past National President of the Ninth & Tenth (Horse) Calvary Association. “He brought civil rights in America a very long way.”
“But not far enough,” says his wife, Doris. “There is still a long way to go.”
Yes, there is still a long way to. To say that we’ve reached “equality” or that the playing field is level is fooling ourselves. It is better, but not level, and there is still much hate and fear. We are not a “post-racial” society. Dr. King said
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification”
Today we have someone running for President who has said:
And that is why I am a strong endorser of the nullification movement, that states like this should just nullify these laws. And in principle, nullification is proper and moral and constitutional,
Another politician is praying for the death of an African-American president, another presidential candidate is campaigning with someone who wants to change immigration laws to ensure that America remains a “majority white” country, there are people who say that the President is not a “natural born citizen” of this country, and a look at the comment sections on many newspaper boards or internet sites will show a stream of racist beliefs and comments. To say that we have reached Dr. King’s promised land, that
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.
has come true is only to fool ourselves. There is still so much to do, and much to change before that is the reality.
In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. 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. 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.”
This country still has to live up to the promise. It has made partial payment, but there is still much to be done. In the words of Robert Frost:
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
We still have promises to keep, and miles to go. Let us not sleep, but continue the journey. It will be hard, sometimes dangerous, there will be blockages and detours, even steps back. But the journey is one we must make.