Is it Time to Shift the 'Dream' from Race to the Economy?
Over 50 years after Dr. King's iconic 'I Have a Dream' speech
As we all enjoy this day off to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. it's about time we get our heads out of the clouds and actually think about this "dream" he had. Sure, we have a black president, two black-oriented TV channels and the freedom to date as many white girls (and guys) as we want. But really: are we living the dream? What would Dr. King want for this country if he were still with us?
While people like Rush Limbaugh, Tavis Smiley, Bill O'Reilly, Al Sharpton and the entire GOP presidential pool remind us that race still plays a role in this country’s politics and public life, it seems as if the younger generation doesn't sweat it as much. Granted, racism never completely goes away, from hate crimes to less violent, but no less damaging violations such as employment or residential discrimination. But is racism the same kind of barrier it was when MLK delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech? Or is it time to shift our focus to other concepts that matter now?
"I Have A Dream" will always be remembered as one of the greatest speeches of all time. But it may be time to put that book down and pick up another one. Here are some reasons why:
We Still Have Career Politicians
Martin Luther King, Jr. has been dead for almost half a century. New generations have begat new generations since he left us. Yet if you take a look at this list of the longest-tenured politicians, you can see that many of the same people making decisions when Dr. King was alive stayed in office for decades after his death. Guys like known racist Strom Thurmond, reformed racist Robert Byrd and presumably non-racist Ted Kennedy held office from the 1960s until the late 2000s. That's not even counting the politicians first elected in the 1970s and still here today. How can we expect any "dream" of Dr. King to become reality if we have the same ghosts from the past making decisions?
We've Been Jobbed
In 1968, the unemployment rate hovered around, but never exceeded, 4%. Outside of a couple of months in 2000, it hasn't been that low since. It's actually hit 10% twice over the last twenty years. And the numbers for African Amerian men are particularly brutal. As crucial as the legislative and judicial victories of the Civil Rights era were (and continue to be) no real progress is ever made without jobs.
Women Still Lack Rights
It’s 44 years since King’s death, and women's rights are still too often put on the back burner. President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, extending civil rights to women who seek to sue for pay discrimination. But true equality for women depends on other things as well, including reproductive rights. Obama recently disappointed many fans by prohibiting the over-the-counter sale of the "Plan B" pill, and that’s on top of years and years of mostly-Republican efforts to limit abortion rights. It's about time that women get to have their own "dream" realized, too.
Money Talks, Race Walks
Just this week a new poll revealed that two-thirds of Americans feel that they are living in an environment of class warfare. Last time we checked, being broke is something we can all share, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. Everybody in America, no matter their color, has something in common: we all could use some more green.
Negroes Still Haven't Got That "Check"
While the address King delivered as part of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington has long been known as the "I Have Dream" speech, that was never meant to be its name. Historians say that it was originally called "Normalcy." Others have said that it was called "The Uncashed Check." The truth is, black folks are still out here struggling and most of us never got that check that Martin (and others) said America owed to black folks. We'll, some of us got a check. It's what we do with it that's the problem.
It Can't Be The Only Dream He Had
For a man who spent most of his days toiling over how to make the world a better place, Dr. King always looked like a man on a mission. The dream he spoke of at the Washington Monument couldn't possibly be the only dream he had. Remember, this is the same man who told us to disobey laws that made no sense and called BS on the Vietnam War. While his message included a call to get along with other races, don't forget that much of King’s brilliance came from his willingness not to get along with everybody or everything. “I Have a Dream” is a great sentiment, but this MLK day it makes sense to add the words of another 1960s pioneer, Curtis Mayfield, who reminded us to always “Keep on Pushing.”