Click here for the video and full transcript of the famous “I have a dream” speech.
When this iconic speech was made, it was not safe to be a black individual living below the Mason-Dixon line. I will not begin to list the injustices and horrors that black people of that time had faced, and I am sure that you can find a survivor of those times somewhere who will speak of that time not without a certain hint of bitterness and anger in their voices, and rightly so. You needed only to look to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit for just one example of what had been faced by them. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle alluded to the injustice in The Five Orange Pips, where Sherlock Holmes sent a letter to arrest the captain of a ship once he figured out that said captain was a KKK member.
Since the speech, since Rosa Parks, since Dr. King’s subsequent assassination, Americans would like to think that the climate had changed. Eased a fair bit, perhaps. We did move closer to equality, right? After all, you don’t see racial discrimination as much anymore, right?
It took us electing a black president to see exactly how racism and racial discrimination is alive and well. I still recall seeing testimonies online of how people stood by Obama’s principles, but refused to vote of him because he was black. The emergence of “birthers”, people who don’t believe Obama is a born citizen of the US because he was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan immigrant father, or has a questionable middle name, is something unprecedented. I don’t recall a similar brouhaha being raised about any other president in the whole of US History. I severely doubt that it would be even a question, had Barack Obama been born white.
It took us the emergence of the Tea Party, who have successfully pushed a school district into re-segregation – think about that for a moment – to see exactly how discrimination is alive and well.
It takes us the countless incidents of violence against women, against homosexuals, whether male or female, murders of transgender individuals, to see that America, in reality, didn’t change very much from the America of 1960s. Excepting the technological advances, the only shift in social climate is that there’s always a group for people to hate. In Dr. King’s time, it was anyone nonwhite. In our time, it’s liberals, women, and the LGBT community.
It makes one wonder what Dr. King would say, had he been alive today to see what America had turned into.
What would he say if he found out that if a group screams into the media machine loudly enough, they can undo fifty years of history and go right in the face of Brown v. Board of Education?
What would he say if he knew that a young woman who is in graduate school has to dogfight to have herself and her studies taken seriously if she’s in a male-dominated field like physics, technology, mathematics, and dodge sexual harassment while wanting nothing more than to make a future for herself?
What would he say if he knew that if a young man fell in love with another young man, and by being together, they both risked their own death at the hands of homophobes who disagree with the “morality” of their personal lives?
What would he say if he knew that violence against women is something very tacitly tolerated, and that a woman can and will be arrested for fighting back in order to save herself?
What would he say if he knew that, everywhere across the United States, people were dying because they literally cannot afford their healthcare, and that there was a vested political interest in continuing to deny them access to the basics?
What would he say if he knew that every young college graduate was entering the workforce with a mountain of debt on their shoulders, without there being enough jobs to go around, simply because colleges and banks decided that profit overrode education?
What would Dr. King say if he knew these things about what America had become?
Maybe it’s just my theory, but I would imagine that he would be outright disgusted, and rightly so.
Injustice isn’t dead. It simply shifted focus away from the injustice that Dr. King had known, and developed a new, broader focus and targets a lot more more people.
Dr. King’s dream is still alive. It has been re-adapted to fit this new, modern injustice, but it lives. Those of us who fight to be taken seriously, for no reason other than we are who we are, know what Dr. King’s dream is, save that with passing time, we have adopted it for our own.
We have a dream, not just today but every day, of living in a society where there is no need to discriminate on any basis. It’s still a work in progress, and it’s a work we do every day.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King.