I still think Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech, Aug. 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, is the greatest example of compelling, principled political oratory since Abraham Lincoln's “Gettysburg Address” one hundred years earlier, Nov 19, 1863, or Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, Mar 4, 1865, both of which are inscribed on the walls inside the Lincoln Memorial.
You can read MLK, Jr's words, but even better, watch and listen. My favorite quote from the speech: "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."
While we’ve come a long way in race relations since slavery in the 19th Century and a Civil War to end it, since Jim Crow laws in the early 20th Century and Dr. King’s work and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, still, recent racial division and violence in the U.S. suggests we have a long way to go. And sadly, one especially unsettling manifestation of this divide intensifying the issue today is a periodic stand-off pitting Black communities against police.
The debate rages, is it “White supremacy” as some say, or racism that is the root of all explanations about Black social ills, or is it a long list of choices made within the Black subculture (as well as within other subcultures including White) that result in social pathologies, or is it some combination of these variables?
This “new” 21st Century, American racial division is actually nothing new, but it's sad, destructive to individuals and society, and threatening to our future, to say the least. Even after having elected the first Black President of the United States, we don’t seem to be able to hold public discussions without things devolving to verbal, then physical, push and shove. It does not help that the President in the White House now often uses phrases or makes statements about racial and ethnic groups, or immigrants, that sound demeaning if not are demeaning, that sound racist and perhaps are racist. Such noise and heat sheds very little light, to say the least.
One thing that might help is to rediscover the worthy aspirations that helped create and define America. Aside from his well-known desire for peaceful civil disobedience, Dr. King employed two enormously important tactics, which many protesting individuals today do not seem to embrace. He focused his work and his rhetoric upon American ideals. And he built his case on these ideals in the name of everyone, Blacks certainly, but everyone.
In the midst of public uproar in American cities in recent days, some Black and some White activists have sounded like they assume a "zero sum social context," i.e., there’s one size pie and the only way my group can expand our piece of the pie is to take from, tear down, or reduce your group’s piece of the pie. This sounds simplistic, but it’s not as far off as it may first appear.
Even if you say, one group has been or is consistently being denied it’s piece of the pie, it’s right to liberty, justice, and opportunity, then you can still argue your point based upon a set of ideals envisioning a country and culture open to all. In any event, the point is, zero sum was not Dr. King’s approach and it is not what American ideals are about.
American ideals have historically proclaimed—even when they were not always embraced—liberty and justice for all, economic opportunity and equality before the law for all, shared working toward peace and prosperity for all. This is what Thomas Jefferson meant in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These basic rights belong to all men (and women), regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Yes, it took American politics, society, and culture a long time to more fully embrace these ideals, and clearly, we're still learning to apply them, but the ideals articulate the goal.
Racial consideration and reconciliation are not easy. Too much human nature and human history get in the way. But an America for all is still history’s greatest Great Experiment, one well worth supporting.
For those who struggle with prejudice, consider the Christian perspective simply but profoundly shared in the poetic lyrics of a 19th Century children’s song: “Red, brown, yellow, black and white, They are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Concern for everyone’s human rights is everyone’s concern. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr lived and died for it. We now must live it.
Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2018
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