Reflections on “The Dream”, 50 Years On

US civil rights leader Martin Luther King,Jr.

An Editorial

One hundred years ago, most white Americans didn’t even challenge the notion that they were somehow biologically superior to the other races of the world. It was simply taken as a fact, in spite of mounting scientific evidence that it simply wasn’t true, much of this evidence coming from the pioneering work of Franz Boas (Memo to self: do an Awesome People in History on Franz Boas).

Fifty years ago, a crowd of 250,000 civil rights marchers listened to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver an ad-libbed speech that has come to be one of the most famous speeches in American history.

This year, in the video game BioShock: Infinite, the player’s main enemy is an army of racists. Think about what that says for a minute. Racism has gone from being accepted as “normal” to being so widely despised that it is a stock evil trait to make us hate fictional villains. If anything testifies to just how radically our society’s values have changed in the past century, this is it.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Everyone from CNN to Google to Fox News to NBC to President Obama have marked the occasion. And why not? Though only one minute and twenty seconds long, the refrain spoken on the Lincoln Memorial that day summarized what the Civil Rights Movement was all about in a way that every American, regardless of their background, could understand. It is impossible to know how many minds were swayed that day, but what can’t be denied is that the Civil Rights Act, the cornerstone of the end of legal discrimination in our country, was passed less than a year later.

Fifty years after this speech, America’s president is a man whose father was from Africa and whose mother was from Kansas. Yet it is also true that fifty years after this speech, Americans that are classified as black, Native American, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander are more likely to be below poverty than those classified as white or Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Race may no longer be a barrier to success, but growing up in poverty in an urban ghetto, surrounded by crime and violence and having few opportunities to advance oneself, certainly is. While it is not impossible to escape the spiral of poverty, it is really difficult, far more difficult than many of us may realize. Many of you Cat Flaggers already know where I stand on issues like poverty and homelessness.

Dr. King may be most famous for combating racism, but many people forget that he also campaigned on behalf of the poor. He understood that after racial discrimination had been tacked, the next great barrier to equal opportunity for all was class discrimination and economic inequality. When I read “looking back” articles on how far we’ve come in trying to reach Dr. King’s dream, the areas we fall short always are economic in nature, and linked to the cycle of poverty. Only by addressing poverty effectively can we really create an America where everyone can achieve their dreams.

Unfortunately, tackling poverty is a far larger and far more complex problem than tackling racism. Poverty has always existed throughout humanity’s history, and it never has just one cause with a simple solution. Poverty is caused by many, many different factors, and they relate to each other in complex ways. No two people in poverty are in poverty for exactly the same reasons.

Just because it is difficult, however, doesn’t mean it is hopeless. Yes, tackling poverty will take a complex, multi-faceted approach that doesn’t try to find a single, simple solution but instead tries to attack the problem from many angles. Yes, this will be difficult to do. Yes, it will require the cooperation of federal and state governments and private charities, of both political parties, and of schools, teachers, and parents. And yes, we should still do it.

3 Responses to Reflections on “The Dream”, 50 Years On

  1. AuntLeesie says:

    In a small (yet meaningful way) it can begin in one kitchen. Or with one bag of groceries.

  2. Pingback: Awesome People in History: Franz Boas | Cat Flag

  3. Pingback: Details of Ferguson, Mo. Police Shooting Released, Some Questions Still Unanswered | Cat Flag

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