Wednesday, August 28, 2013

King's Dream

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It's ironic that so much of what his dream was about has come to pass, but the hope expressed in his most famous phrase, the most memorable part of the speech, seem more distant than ever. King's dream consisted of the following:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
Happily, all of this has either come to pass or we've made great strides toward achieving it, but then King spoke these lapidary words:
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.
It's a sad fact of our modern age that we seem to be moving further and further from this ideal. Nowadays, character doesn't matter, or so we were often reminded during the Clinton years. What does matter, the only thing that matters as regards race, is one's skin color. Color trumps character almost always. Indeed, in a postmodern world the very idea of character, like the idea of morality in which it's rooted, is under suspicion.

King went on to say this:
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
Despite the efforts of the race hustlers like Al Sharpton and the divisive, ill-conceived comments of our president in the wake of the Louis Gates and Trayvon Martin episodes, and of liberals who want to keep us divided so as to keep African-Americans from wandering off the Democratic plantation, America has almost realized King's dream.

Except, that is, for the part about judging each other on the basis of their character and not their color. When we learn to do that, when we learn to stop seeing race in every interaction, when we learn to stop picking at the scabs of historical injustice, when we learn to look more to the future than to the past, when we once again prize virtue and character, then we'll have joined King on the mountaintop.