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Thursday, August 28, 2003
The State of the Dream (at least in this short haired white boy’s opinion)…
So today is the fortieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This is certainly one of the most stirring and eloquent speeches ever delivered on American soil. When I hear it today I am still in awe of it, and I have often wondered, as I have with other great speeches, if either the deliverer or those in attendance instantly grasped the greatness and importance of what they had just heard. Bold, if simple, concepts for the time: Inalienable rights, applicable to all men - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – all men created equal. What was he saying if not I am a man, and you don’t grant these rights to me, they are mine. King spoke of a day not when these rights would be granted, but rather recognized. When men would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Did we ever really get to that point in time that King was looking towards? I don’t know, and who am I to say? It does seem to me, however, that we are clearly moving away from that dream now. The leaders that once pronounced that dream as their goal – a righteous goal – have simply lost sight of it. No longer do they look towards the true colorblind society, indeed, they demand that we not be blind to the color of their skin. Today from schools to legislative chambers, from municipal governments to the Supreme Court, the message has been made clear: race does matter. Imagine some saying to Martin Luther King, we are going to design our admissions forms to record the race of every applicant so that those applicants can be treated differently. So that applicants of one color can be given preferential treatment over applicants of another color. What would King’s response be? Would he ask further who would be the beneficiary of the preferential treatment and who would be the recipient of the discrimination, or would he reject the notion at face value?
The truth is, everyone knows the current state of things is wrong, discrimination was wrong forty years ago, and it’s just as wrong today. The notion that “affirmative action” is acceptable because it helps society move gradually towards some ideal state of equilibrium is false. It’s a mirage. When the Supreme Court states that "We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved here today," they are just chasing that mirage. It is futile. Discrimination is ugly, it is unjust, and it should certainly be snuffed out whenever it is encountered, but this is now recognized and accepted by society. As Martin Luther King said himself forty years ago:
” This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
The dream continues.
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