Yesterday was the celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Social media were alive and bubbling with some of Dr. King’s most powerful words. I watched a You Tube video of the “I Have a Dream” speech (which is not what it was actually called, by the way—see my earlier post). We who were born after that speech, after King’s death, have little concept of how recently those events occurred, but the video of that speech and that march on Washington is a reminder that it was not as long ago as we would like to believe.
We as a whole society have made important moves toward racial equality, but it is still true that, all else being equal, a white man with a felony on his criminal record has an equal or better chance of landing a job than a black man with no criminal record. It is still true that, while we may have elected a black president, many white people were only willing to vote for a black man who denounced the preacher of his home church and had, until that point, made every effort to avoid talking about race, a fact that proves only how salient yet taboo the topic remains. It is still true that massive income, wealth, education, and health gaps exist, and that most refuse to acknowledge the roles of historical and present-day institutional racism that perpetuate and sometimes widen those gaps. It is still true that people who live in predominantly black neighborhoods have less access to the social capital and local businesses that provide living wage jobs in other neighborhoods and less access to healthy food, pharmacies, and public transportation; at the same time they have more access to liquor stores and fast food restaurants and live closer to facilities that dump pollution into their air and water. It is still true that when I searched the term “food stamps” yesterday, one Google image was of an old food stamp picturing Barack Obama and the quote: “Now we finally have a president to put on the food stamp!” It is still true that some people exhibit overt racism in a country that promises “liberty and justice for all”.
I do not have the education or experience to even begin to write with the eloquence and relevancy of Dr. King, but I want to be an ally to oppressed people--to stand with them and fight alongside them in defense of our common humanity. I want to be an instrument of peace—when peace is defined not simply as the absence of conflict between people, but as the presence of justice for all, cooperation between all, and mutual, abiding respect.
I have a dream that my children will never learn the racial stereotypes that I was conditioned to believe were true.
I have a dream that a word or action taken by a person of color will never be attributed to his or her race but to his or her person alone.
I have a dream that white people would own their own history and mobilize as thoughtful allies.
I have a dream that white people would stop using the term “reverse racism” and recognize the imbalance of power in our society.
I have a dream that people with class privilege would stop falsely characterizing and criminalizing the recipients of public benefit programs, especially recipients of color.
I have a dream that the faces in movies, on greeting cards, on children’s toys, etc. would reflect the diversity of color in our world.
I have a dream that more organizations would take a harder look at the color of their employees and take more seriously their commitments to equal opportunity employment and anti-racism training for employees.
I have a dream that the history taught in schools would be the combined history of all people in the United States—the injustices and the shared triumphs, the brilliance and the oversight, the silence and the courage.
I have a dream that we would stop excusing the racists at the center of white history by allowing them the same racist views and practices employed by majority white society at the time.
I have a dream that we would be able to use the word racism to accurately describe scenarios without activating the debilitating defensiveness that overtakes so many of us.
I have a dream that violent tragedy, like the one that occurred in Tucson, would inspire neither fear nor polarized rhetoric but a critical, nuanced analysis of the ways our culture engenders violence, rejects and punishes those with mental health issues, and freely distributes weapons that make us bleed and cry.
I have a dream that we would begin to see ourselves as a whole human race and appreciate how our freedom, happiness, health, dignity, success is bound up with that of every other human on the planet.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had prophetic dreams for the future of his country, and the combination of those dreams and several bold steps resulted in real change. What are your dreams? What common steps can we take to move those dreams forward?
Dr. King said: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” I believe that time is now.