“…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.
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…”
Each time I read or hear these lofty words by the African American civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) whose birthday we celebrate today, I feel a chill run down my spine and involuntary tears well up in my eyes. No doubt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s oratorical speech ranks among the greatest of all time. Just as itreverberated across the globe when he made his monumental “I have a Dream” speech more five decades ago, his words will keep ringing and echoing through the chamber of time for years to come.
Many have argued that much has changed for the better in race relations in America since that monumental speech. Yes, a great amount of water has passed under bridge of time since MLK made that historic speech. The defining characteristic of American life and the subject matter of MLK’s speech—racism—has indeed changed.
The racism MLK spoke about then was a racism which in the words of Kwame Ture, “strutted its stuff in hoods and robes by the light of burning crosses, a racism that ruled through Jim Crow, backed by the lyncher’s rope.”
Today, an African American, born to a Kenyan father and a white American mother, is president the country that went to war over “race.” A great part of America is now integrated, although some white Americans adamantly practice de facto racism through white flight, i.e., relocating from integrated neigbourhoods. Racism in America today has largely ceased to be the overt, crude, in your-face type of racism of the past. The general consensus is that racism today is generally more subtle, sophisticated and covert.
And therein lies the problem.
The benign, smiling face of racism today has made many racialzed minorities complacent. They compare what was and what is and console themselves with the usual refrain: “we have come a long way indeed.” They take tokenism for improved race relations. They equate what I will term the significant tokenistic election of an African American as president and hiring of a handful of “people of colour” for window dressing with improved race relations.
They take a few black men and women cracking through the glass ceiling or the appointment of the Colin Powell’s and Condoleeza Rice’s to powerful government positions in the Bush Administration, for example, and the success and fabulous wealth of African American entertainers and athletes—the LeBron James, Michael Jacksons and Michael Jordans— as clear indications of race relations having “improved vastly.”
But because racism has changed its appearance and form does not make it any better. In fact, one may argue that racism in its new garbs is invidious and insidious, and as lethal, if not more dangerous.
Which brings us to the next problem.
Many tend to think that one form of racism is better than the other or racism in one country is better than the other. However, racism is racism. Rose will smell as sweet no matter what name you give it, apologies to Shakespeare. In all cases, lives are destroyed. Bread is literally taken from people’s mouths. Many are driven to their premature deaths as they are denied equal access to quality healthcare, better education, and meaningful employment. Legions of the so-called people of colour are destroyed and scarred for life physically, psychologically, and emotionally.
Racism in any form, quantity, or shape must not be tolerated.
Thus, the best tribute we can pay to MLK today is for us to move out of our cocoon of complacency and confront the new racism head on no matter where it may be. But it will be wrong for victims of racism to think they can fight the disease alone. It takes two to tango and as the Ghanaian philosopher and educator Dr. Kwagyir Aggrey once said, it takes both the black and white keys to produce a harmonious music on the piano. The law of dialectics dictates that progress requires the synergistic fusion of thesis and antithesis. The way forward is to make it abundantly clear that racism affects both the victimized and the victimizer and therefore it requires the active and collective involvement and cooperation of both to fight it.
The American national anthem sings of “the land of the free.” The Pledge of Allegiance promises “liberty and justice for all.” The Declaration of Independence proclaims that all human creatures are “created equal.” For MLK’s “I have a dream” speech to become more than a dream, all—Black and White—must work together to ensure the nobles ideals enshrined in the three become a reality and not mere rhetoric. For this to happen, a sustained campaign to educate all across the racial pale the need to work together to battle the hydra-headed racism that has blighted much of America’s two hundred plus history.
About the Author: Dr. Charles Quist-Adade is Sociology professor and past immediate chair of the Sociology Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. His research and teaching interests are: social justice, globalization, racialization and anti-racism, media and society, and social theory. His other areas of teaching and research interest revolve around Global South issues and sociology of religion. He is the author of several books--In the Shadows of the Kremlin and the White House: Africa’s Media Image from Communism to Post-Communism, and Social Justice in Local and Global Contexts, From Colonization to Globalization: The Intellectual and Political Legacies of Kwame Nkrumah (Co-editor), Introduction to Critical Sociology: From Modernity to Postmodernity (Co-Author)—several chapters in books, and scores of scholarly and popular press articles and blog posts.