Whose Dream Is It Anyway?

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X meet bef...

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X meet before a press conference. Both men had come to hear the Senate debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was the only time the two men ever met; their meeting lasted only one minute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another Martin Luther King Day has come and gone, this time along with the second inauguration of our first non-white President. Another long weekend for bankers and other white-collar workers (at least teachers get thrown into the mix) but not so much for those whose rights the Reverend Doctor struggled for. No, too many of his people are still stuck on the lowest rungs of our economic ladder. Too many, relative to the overall population, toil in so-called “low” service jobs in which one is unable to get the day off. Somehow I do not think this was part of his dream.
It has been 45 years since the Reverend King was taken from us. In that time we have seen some improvement in race relations, though not anywhere near what we could, or should, have. Sure it is no longer considered polite to use the “n” word, though the shallowness of many white people’s commitment to that frustrates mightily. We still have white (mostly) men complaining about affirmative action, as though it were a) a great scourge on the economic well-being of white Americans, and b) about punishing white men rather than leveling a ridiculously uneven playing field.
If we want to call ourselves a just society we have to do better. I am not just speaking to the overt racists, or even the closet racists, here. No there are people, a great many white people, who are so deep in the closet vis-a-vis their privilege that they are unaware of it, or at least don’t allow themselves to be aware. A great many white Americans (almost all if you observe the rhetoric passed around by conservatives and liberals alike) treat MLK day like a get out of jail free card. “See, I observe this holiday, so I cannot be racist.”
Well guess what, it doesn’t work like that. You still enjoy the many privileges of being white and most of us do little to nothing about it. Even those unhappy with the status quo will sit silent when a friend or relative starts spouting bigotry, fear and hate. “Oh that’s just their way”, “that was the generation they were raised in”, “I don’t like it, but it I don’t want to make a scene.” No, you don’t want to make a scene because it makes you uncomfortable.
You know what else is uncomfortable? Being the woman in the office everyone looks at when something goes missing, based solely on the color of your skin. Being told that “Help Wanted” sign is out by accident, based solely on the color of your skin. Being stopped by police, based solely on the color of your skin. Women crossing the street as you walk toward them because they view you as a sexual predator, based solely on the color of your skin. Being gunned down and having your murderer painted as a victim, based solely on the color of your skin. Seeing almost no positive representations of people like yourself in movies or television, seeing a disproportionate number of  your people in prison for drug infractions despite the fact that they use drugs less than white people, seeing forty kids to a teacher in your school districts all based solely on the color of your skin. So much for the “content of their character.”
White people have to do less hand wringing and back slapping around MLK day and do more head slapping. They have to call themselves and each other out. They have to stop whining about “reverse racism” and start being part of positive change. As the saying goes “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” Well, white America, you are very much part of the problem and it is time to stop, because the dream continues to be a nightmare.

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