Friday, April 04, 2008

The Dream Lives On: 40 After MLK

While I do not usually post articles so quickly after such a lengthy post, this is a special case as this is a special day. On this day, forty years ago, one of the greatest humans to have walked the face of the earth, the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior, had his life snuffed out by the callous act of assassination; an act that, to this day, remains in the minds of many an act as unresolved as the assassination of that other icon of the 1960’s, JFK. The death of this great man came only a few short months before my birth, in August 1968, and I grew up with the collective memories of my parents and their experiences with MLK being recounted to me virtually from the day I was born.

“I have a dream,” was not something that I heard repeated as only a detached phrase, as something without meaning or context. My parents were careful to explain the importance of this “dream”; they took great pains to instil in me a respect for my fellow man, regardless of their race, religion, sex, or any other consideration. Colour blindness was something to be proud of in our house as it was evidence that we looked at the world the way it should truly be seen; looking at people the only way they should be seen, without regard for their race or religion.

The dream of Martin Luther King became something that, as I grew up, I longed for as well; longing to see a day when peoples in countries like South Africa, Chile, Israel, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States could live in true freedom, not just the surface freedoms spoken of by the talking heads that spoke for their governments. It amazed me to see, as a child, how black people in South Africa and America shared so much in common; both peoples living in a state of apartheid, though one was technically ended by Lyndon Johnson when he ended segregation and passed the Civil Rights Act.

Learning about the legacy of Martin Luther King, as a child, was something that was as normal for me as was learning about the other important things in life; the idea of how important it was to not use violence for the furtherance of one’s goal was not merely King’s message, it was the message, and yet, how much has that message been heeded? After forty years how much more is needed before that dream is realized?

Illustration © by Ben Heine

In the United States, some would say, this is the year of a dream, the year in which a woman and a black man are contending for the opportunity to contend for the highest office in the land. At the same time the very fact that I have identified one of the candidates as a black man has done a great injustice to that man, a man who is far more than an “African-American”, or anything else anyone may want to call him in an attempt to diminish what Barack Obama stands for. An article that appeared on Ben Heine’s excellent site poignantly expressed this issue in a way that far exceeds that I could hope to, so I shall direct you there (please come back!). Remember, we are more than the sum of our parts, we are more than anything that can identify us as being simply “black” or “white”, as being “Jews” or “Palestinians”; we are the culmination of all the experiences that have gone into developing our character, and it is our choice as to what that character is going to look like to the rest of the world when we are faced with adversity. Are we strong enough to follow King’s dream?

So, in the words of the Reverend King, just how far is the United States from having that “dream” of his from coming to fruition? The very fact that the remaining two candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for presidential candidate do not fall into the classic model of the American politician would seem to be indicative of the great number of changes that have taken place over the past forty years, but it is barely a beginning. With the signing of the anti-segregationist laws during his term in office Lyndon Johnson galvanized the Southern electoral districts so far away from the Democratic Party that they barely show up on the political radar screens these days. The extreme right, the political extremists, the racists, the “Christian” right and the various other flat-earth mentalists decided that the Republican way better represented their ideals, so long as it kept “them” out of their back yards. Founded in 1973 by conservative minister Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority was born out of the hatred of anti-segregationism, having turned to the likes of Senator Jesse Helms at the beginning of the organization’s history.

More must be done.

The wisdom with which Reverend King spoke transcended his time, and indeed, it has transcended all time. The speech he delivered to so many supporters in Washington is a perfect example of the type of thinking that needs to be echoed, loudly, by today’s leaders, ideas that must never be allowed to be forgotten, and that must be put into practice around the world. Rather than creating strife by focusing on race it is time to forget the colour of the individual standing – or living – next to us. Their struggle is, truly, our struggle, regardless of the backgrounds that make one person so different from another.

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.” (Complete speech here)

One short paragraph from a long speech, and yet it speaks volumes: whites were there with the blacks, side by side. They understood that the struggle for equality was one that was not borne alone by the black man, but a shared burden; so long as the black man was persecuted in America no one was free. No one is free.

If there is one thing that Americans love to talk about more than anything else it is “freedom” and the “price” of said freedom. They love to invoke the blood shed for their right to live in America and all that other jingoistic stuff that ignores the most essential facts regarding the history of the violation of rights that has taken place in the past and is currently taking place under the umbrella of “national security”. For the first time in American history the black man is probably marginally less maligned in the eyes of the institution for the sole reason that the post 9/11 racial profile doesn’t include anyone wearing an afro.

Given the number of individuals that have been detained, sometimes for months or even years, merely because they were travelling on a passport from a “suspect” nation, or they “looked” suspicious (read: they were wearing traditional Arab dress, were reading a Qu’ran, were praying, or conducting themselves in any number of other overtly threatening ways), it would seem that the “dream” has a long way to go before it is fully realized.

We can do more. We cannot walk alone.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Note on Rejected comment from "Sarkozy":

A comment submitted to this blog, particularly this post, by an individual calling themselves “Sarkozy” was rejected for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it contained references to violence against women that is completely unacceptable under the rules of moderation that were established for the operation of this blog.

Once again, this is not a “1st Amendment” Zone; this blog is unfettered by the hypocrisies of the U.S. Constitution and will not post material that cannot maintain even a base level of civility.

Having said that, I am excerpting a few, short portions, of “Sarkozy’s” comment, including the incorrect spelling and grammar.

“Martin Luther King was a fraud - not a great man. He plagarized big sections of his thesis so he was no 'doctor'. He plagarized or had Jewish communists write his speeches.”

The rest of “Sarkozy’s” comment degenerates into an ad hominem attack, invoking the most obscene language possible that has nothing to do with supporting his argument.

The question of King’s use of other people’s writings has been addressed extensively since the 1990’s and is hardly a secret to anyone. The materials that he “borrowed” were, for the most part, considered to “[have] satisfied his teachers and advanced his personal ambitions; his use of political, philosophical, and literary texts-particularly those expressing the nation's democratic ideas-inspired and mobilized many Americans, thereby advancing the cause of social justice.” (from I am not going to defend these acts, but I shall not condemn the man, nor will I cast out all the good that he did; MLK still stands as one of the greatest men to have ever lived, and did more good for America than anyone else living in the twentieth century.

That is all I shall say on this for now.