In light of the recent events across the country that sparked accusations of racially motivated actions by police. I thought it would be a good time to look at what it would take to truly move past discrimination. I say discrimination here instead of racism, because I think the problem is more far reaching and complex than just the color of someone’s skin. Perhaps one of the most well-known speeches that deals with discrimination is Martin Luther King Jr.’s I have a dream speech. Throughout the beginning of the speech, Dr. King uses brilliant verbal imagery to illustrate the oppression that has plagued the black portion of the American population. Some of these mechanisms of oppression include: segregation, discrimination, barriers to prosperity, and denial of the inalienable rights guaranteed to all men (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness). He calls for persistence in the movement that has begun, but cautions against committing wrongful deeds and allowing the creative protest to turn into physical violence. He then lays out his dream for America. This dream reminds us that all men are created equal, he dreams of the descendants of slaves and the decedents of slave owners sitting together in brotherhood, he dreams of Mississippi becoming an oasis of freedom and justice, he dreams of children being judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin, and he dreams of little black boys and girls joining hands with little white boys and girls and living in freedom. This speech was given more than 40 years ago. Hopefully we as a society have progressed toward this dream, not just because Dr. King said we should, but because it is the right and the moral thing to do. In this journey toward fulfilling the dream, there have been hurdles and stumbling blocks, it is these that this article will focus on.
Throughout recorded human history, the concept of divide and rule has been applied by kings, emperors, governments, and political factions to ensure that their interest is maintained while the populous is divided into groups with like characteristics and convinced that the enemy is not the ruler, but other groups with different characteristics. These characteristics can be political, economic, ethnic, geographic, cultural, and religious, among others. In modern America, you are frequently asked to identify yourself with a group. This is ingrained in our culture, and culture is difficult to change. This cultural change must start with the people, after coming to this realization, I, answer questions designed to segregate me into a group in the most ambiguous, way possible. I contend that there is only one race, and that is the human race. I contend that we as Americans are one people regardless of where we came from, how we got here, what we look like, or our accent. I identify myself as politically independent, and I invite everyone who reads this article to join me in starting this movement.
Committing yourself to answering questions on forms ambiguously is a miniscule part of the solution to a much larger problem. Dr. King’s dream had multiple mentions of children. I feel that this is significant, because, we are all born innocent and trusting. We rely on our parents and those around us completely for our survival. As we grow, we begin to learn from those around us, and this is the most vital point in changing culture. If we are taught hate, we grow up hating. If we are taught love, we grow up loving. Yes, this is an oversimplified example but it illustrates an important point about laying a foundation. President Reagan famously said that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” We need to step back and evaluate our definition of freedom. If the status quo is what we see as the fulfillment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans, as Reagan put it, “[it should] be fought for, protected, and handed on for them [our children] to do the same.” If freedom looks more like a fulfillment of the dream of Dr. King, I contend that we could also be one generation away from accomplishing that freedom if we are willing to fight for it.
How do we get there? As mentioned above, we need to begin with teaching our children that they do not have to conform to society and encourage them not to in many cases. We need to model our behavior toward what we want them to be. We need to stop being the generation of the chronically offended. We need to strive for a society that is post-racism, post-sexism, post partisan, and post multicultural. We need to return to a period of American exceptionalism on the world stage, but this will not occur until we unite as one American people.
Is there hope? I believe there is. The massive popularity of social media and internet communities among the younger generations shows that to our core we want to belong to a community. If the geographical area around us cannot satisfy that need (increasing trend in suburbs and exurbs), we look elsewhere. Robert Putnam, a political science professor at Harvard, coined the term “Bowling Alone” as the title of a book that details the collapse of America’s communities. A follow up article titled Still Bowling Alone shows there is a resurgence of “civic conscience” beginning after the 9/11 attacks. His research indicates that the biggest division amongst American families is due to socioeconomic status. The digital community most likely has a calming effect on this division. As social networking evolves, it has begun to bring people together off line which could indicate a resurgence of America’s communities. There is also a trend of younger generations moving to urban centers. This also bodes well for America’s communities and the enduring freedom that could lead us to living the dream.
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