A half a century ago, today, over a quarter of a million people descended on Washington D.C. to protest, peacefully, against a significant portion of the United States population being treated unequally. It capped a summer of people being attacked by police dogs, sprayed with fire hoses, hit in the head with bricks, and having their churches burned down killing children inside. One man led the struggle. With an oratory that had its most famous portion improvised, Americans saw social justice overtake the injustice being done to people solely because of the color of their skin. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered perhaps the greatest speech outside a U.S. President, in modern history. He had a dream of racial equality accepted by the masses without violence or political strife. But with most dreams, reality set in.
The summer of 2013 pales in comparison to 1963. It started in early June, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down major parts of the 1964 Civil Rights act that Dr. King fought so hard to have passed. The court decided that race could not play a factor in polling decisions and procedures. Many feel this will allow for racism, especially in the south, to prevent non-whites from voting through intimidation or vague voter ID laws.
Then the summer turned nightmarish with a man who identified himself as a “white Hispanic”, George Zimmerman, being acquitted of the murder of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was armed, Martin was not. Zimmerman’s personal shortcomings were glossed over during the trial and media circus, while Martin was essentially tried for his own death, and branded “another black thug” by right wing media types.
A rodeo clown made headlines in Missouri a few weeks later. He donned a mask of President Barack Obama, who is of mixed race, manipulated the lips of the mask in a racist manner, then asked crowd if they wanted to see “Obama get run over by a bull”. The crowd of several thousand people, mostly white, cheered.
Two recent murders, one in Oklahoma where three teenagers, two black and one white (driving the getaway car), shot a popular college baseball player in the back because “they were bored”. Then in Eastern Washington, near Spokane, two teenagers, identified as black sixteen-year-olds, tried to rob an 88-year-old World War II veteran. When the man fought back, the teens killed him.
Technically, we have three and a half weeks of summer left.
Dr. King’s vision was clear but his rationale was realistic. He never thought full equality, the kind of liberal utopia I, and many others would like, was possible in his lifetime or the next one. Five years later, a shot rang out in the Memphis sky; well, you know the U2 song, and Martin Luther King died. But did his dream go with him?
Barack Obama is President of the United States. He’s of mixed race, left of center, and garnered more white votes in the south than any non-white politician in American history. Despite the civil rights voting act being gutted this year, more people of different races, religion, and national origin are participating in the political process and in white collar jobs like medicine, law, and finance than ever before.
Then how do we explain the racial divide, especially in the media, that we have in today’s discourse? I could take a stab and say we need one more generation to die off, you know, the one that sprayed hoses, unleashed dogs, and burned churches in ’63. But that’s so cynical. So since I’m no Dr. King, by a long shot, I offer a fantasy, some fantasies, not a dream, with all apologies to Aldo Nova.
- I have a fantasy that the media, all media, left, right, those posing as the center, stop focusing on the race of crime perpetrators and victims. All crime against all people is heinous, regardless of the races involved. In the Zimmerman case, it was made an issue by his defense team and the media, no one else. In the other crimes I cited, race was not a factor, even the alleged perps said so. Now, the Missouri clown? Yeah, that was some racist stuff, and he and some of that crowd, deserve all of the ostracization you can muster.
- I have a fantasy that social media becomes more responsible. When you see racism tinged memes, posts, and jokes flow through your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram timelines, report the posters for abuse and send them messages calling them out for their awful attitudes. Learn to use the defriend button. They’ll get over it, kind of like I will when people defriend me for this column.
- I have a fantasy that the civil rights act of 1964 and it’s voting rights arm will be strengthened. Republican Jim Sensenbrenner http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/08/26/gop-rep-jim-sensenbrenner-pledges-to-fix-voting-rights-act/ is already vowing to do so. That’s not a typo, he’s a Republican. This man knows that the bigots in his state will abuse their power against non-white and non-Republican voters.
- I have a fantasy that in five years all divisive voices Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ed Schultz, Al Sharpton, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Bill Maher, and anyone else that takes the political discourse down an uncivil way will be marginalized and disenfranchised. Rush Limbaugh has twenty-three million listeners and he called Trayvon Martin and his friend Rachel Jeantel the n word numerous times this summer. Twenty-three million of you people are the problem.
I don’t believe Dr. King’s dream died with him that horrible day in Memphis in 1968. But I do think that people of color, same-sex, immigrants, and those of us who support them with all of our hearts should heed Malcolm X’s famous words in achieving Martin Luther King’s lofty goals.
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it, I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.”