Friday, January 19, 2007

Dr. King's Dream is Dead

The Dream is Dead. OK, that was MY title. the actual headline is "Dr. King's dream impossible with specialty awards". Seriously, the point wasn't that specialty awards were the problem, they were the SYMPTOM of the problem, which is that, 40 years later, most people don't WANT to be judged on the content of their character, and are much happier being judged by the color of their skin.

Critically Thinking
By Charles Reichley
January 18, 2007

The Dream is dead

“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.”

That is one line from one of the most well-known speeches of modern times, delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Much has changed since he spoke these words. Some say we’ve come a long way, others that there is still a long way to go, to realize King’s dream.

But whatever progress has been made, the dream of a colorblind society is dead. And I see little evidence that those who honor King’s memory, and long for his vision to be reality, are anything but pleased.

How else can you explain the existence of Black Entertainment Television, the “Black Music Awards”, or the Miss Black America pageant? Or how, when republicans wanted to counter the image of George Allen as a racist, they cited the opinion of a “major black newspaper”?

It’s not just blacks. Hispanics, Asians, women – name a distinguishable group, and you will find organizations, awards, scholarships, and other evidence that, far from being ignored as insignificant, our differences are seen as a, if not the, defining characteristic of our lives. Distinctions which were once considered superficial, that one day would be rightly purged from our conscious and unconscious thought, have instead become an indelible part of our identity.

Now, I have no desire to have my whiteness be honored, nor do I feel put out because others have their own special awards and I don’t. But King was right to imagine a day when skin pigmentation was an afterthought, when we would treat all people based on characteristics that matter.

Instead, we have come to embrace that which makes us different, and to dwell on physical characteristics that distinguish us. This focus divides us, segregates us, and plants in our minds the expectation that what a person is should be determined by race, color, and gender. As the web site for the Miss Black America pageant states: “all humans are a total of their experiences, and being Black is the most profound experience a Black human being encounters in America.”

I’m not going to dispute that claim – as a white person, I cannot speak to what it is to be black. But it is certainly the polar opposite of King’s dream for a colorblind society. I can never be black. If being black is deemed important to understanding a problem, my input will be dismissed out-of-hand. If race is a critical factor, we must by definition exclude people based on race. If a white person “can’t understand”, a wedge is driven between us that cannot be overcome.

In fact, we cannot come together as a nation so long as we divide the nation by race, color, or creed. I think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that beyond the injustices perpetrated upon blacks by whites throughout our history, division based on characteristics over which we have no control will tear our country apart.

King’s dream is a hard dream, maybe an impossible dream. Humans will segregate, if not by color, then by sex, or size, or weight, or some other characteristic. We will look for people “like us”, and then find people “not like us” that we can look down upon. Rich/poor, attractive/homely, educated/ignorant, thin/fat, tall/short, you name it; we’ve found ways to label it, organize by it, and to use it to our advantage.

Still, it is a dream worth striving for, but that we seem to have abandoned. Instead of looking for what would unite us, we have abandoned ourselves to the exaltation of what divides us. I guess it makes us more comfortable – if we must be judged by what we cannot change, we cannot feel rejected if we are not accepted for what we are.

Some would say that, as a white person, I have no place talking about this subject. That is my point – my participation in the conversation is judged not by the content of my character, but by the color of my skin.


Ed Darrell said...

"Not yet realized" is not the same as "dead."

Morgan Freeman is a nice guy. Great actor. Great parts in great movies.

He's never had an on-screen kiss. He's never gotten the girl. Until we arrive at a day that a black actor of great skill and charm can get a role where he gets the girl and gets a kiss, we haven't arrived at a color-blind society.

That doesn't mean the dream is dead. It means there's a lot more work to do.

Charles said...

Morgan freeman is a great actor -- but we don't need a colorblind society for him to get an on-screen kiss, just a blind one.

Citizen Tom said...

Good post.

I would add that in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with people separating themselves by race, sex, and creed. We do that, for example, every time we go to church.

The problem arrives when our government makes it its business to set us against each other based upon our race, sex, or creed. If some group such as a group of Black Americans think being Black is important, I don't particularly care. What I get concerned about is when some group uses their race, sex, or creed as an excuse to have the government take what rightfully belongs to someone else.

Such was the problem with slavery. The South used the power of the government to make slavery possible. Without the force and power of government backing the slaveholders, the slaves could have successfully rebelled, and they would have.

James Atticus Bowden said...

Citizen Tom: Great Britian used the power of the government to have slavery. After 1776, the US used the power of the government to have slavery. State by state the practice was ended by the state legislatures until Lincoln was elected.