How far in 50 years? How far to go?


Fifty years ago, the Reverend Martin Luther King, JR, stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the tribute to the Great Emancipator and defender or our Union, and gave his famous “I have a dream” speech.

Since his untimely death at the hands of an assassin in 1968, there has been great discussion about how far the United States has come in realizing his dream, and what he might have thought about certain political and social actions.  No one can know what his opinions would be, as he would not be the man he was at the time of his death.  In the fifty years since his speech, how might his views and beliefs have changed or stayed the same?  No one can say, not even his family, because one of King’s beliefs was that each human being was an individual and should be looked at for their individuality and not lumped into a static and unyielding box of prejudicial supposition.

So any attempt to look forward through King’s eyes is a vain one, in both senses of the word:  vain in that it would be an impossible task, and vain in thinking that anyone is so insightful as to be able to see how the second half of an individual’s life would have changed them.  Vanity.

What we can do is look at the United States—at ourselves—and see where we have fallen in relation to the beautiful vision of King’s dream.

With the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the legal barriers to the black—and every other minority—community were removed.

Does that mean that racism was magically removed from the hearts of all Americans?  Hardly.  Discrimination exists, has always existed, and will always exist in humanity as long as there is a way to categorize men by some defining, external characteristic.

America, however, is indiscriminate.  Indiscriminate in providing opportunity for her citizens.  Indiscriminate in allowing those citizens to grow and prosper to the best of their abilities.  Indiscriminate in the sorrow that can befall an individual, family, or community through disasters of all forms.  Tragedy is tragedy, regardless of background.  Anyone who tries to deny this is either ignorant or willfully separating themselves from reality.  But in America, though all may be subject to the same misfortunes, they also have available to them the means to affect their own escape: family, education, will.  No amount of laws can give an individual those things.  They must come from within.

Will there be those individuals that cannot see past the outside of a man?  Yes.

You can change the law, but you cannot change the heart and soul of every man.

But even if you could, would you really want to?  Without those examples of mindless bigotry, how else can we remind ourselves of where we came from and how far we have come?  It is important to remember that it is not against the law to feel a certain way; it is only against the law to act because of those opinions.

And this road runs in both directions.  Any individual in the United States is free to feel however they want about whomever they want.  What is not acceptable is to violate the law because of those beliefs.  Whether a “nigger-hating” good-old-boy, a gangsta rapper that espouses violence against the police, a trial witness talking about “crackers,” or even members of a political party saying that “Party/Group A believes that—” it is incumbent on all of us to remember that such broad statements are guilty of the crime of prejudice and stereotyping.

Not all Democrats are bleeding-heart liberals, not all Republicans are defense-spending hawks, not all black people are drug-users/dealers, not all oriental people are bad drivers, and all women are not weaker than men.

As soon as we say “those people” or “them,” we are violating the spirit of Dr. King’s dream.  Each of us needs to be looked at and evaluated as an individual and not because of some external—and often artificial—association.

The content of our character.

Not the color of our skin, not the political party we subscribe to, not the place we live, not our religion, not our income level.

The content of our character.

And when we don’t look for that, when we don’t look for the humanity behind the skin color, the political party, the clothes, the religion, what does it say about the content of our character?

Thank you, Dr. King.


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