“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”
-Martin Luther King, Jr. August 28, 1963
The United States marks the 50th Anniversary of this famous line and the speech made on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this week. It is a fitting time to take stock of where America is in achieving ‘the Dream’.
We all know that there has been a dismantling of the Jim Crow laws that legalized discrimination and segregation in many parts of the country. Numerous laws protecting the rights of groups historically discriminated against have been passed and have become engrained in our legal system as protection against the blatant abuses of individual rights by governments and business; the election of minority candidates to office is increasing; opportunities in education and employment have expanded many fold; societal acceptance of bigotry has decreased substantially.
On the flip-side, unemployment among minority groups continues to be higher than the national average; the incarceration rate among minority groups is much higher than the national average; graduation rates from high school remain much lower for minority groups, especially African American males, than among the population as a whole; dealing with the undocumented population continues to be a major issue; conflicts continue over affirmative action and related racial issues.
The biggest single difference between 1963 and 2013 is that the shortfalls of our society are discussed and debated and yelled about and protested on a daily basis not on the streets in violent clashes like we see in Egypt, France, Norway and other countries but in legislative bodies and courts and schools and community centers and street corners across the country. We vent our feelings on Facebook and other social media on the Internet. Most of it is well-intentioned and honest, coming from all points on the political spectrum, and some of it is ignorant and intolerant.
The main thing is that it is part of the process to overcome the flaws in our system. A process laid out at a time where the strides we have made in race relations would have seemed like a wild fantasy to most people not just here but around the world. It is by no means a perfect and smooth process, and our system isn’t perfect(there was a reason that the Founding Fathers included an amendment process in the Constitution).
As Martin King said in another part of his famous speech: “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
The sum total since Martin Luther King spoke to the ten of thousands of people in Washington D.C. on that warm August day 50 years ago is that we as a country have come a long way towards realizing the day when MLK’s dream will come to fruition, but we have a lot of work left to do.