Today, January 19, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. So, it’s an appropriate day to ask this question: “Has Dr. King’s dream been fulfilled?”
47 years ago, on August 23, 1963, Dr. King said these now immortal words at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.:
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.
14 months ago, the United States voted a half-black man, who presented himself as the “post-racial” candidate, as president. Has this improved racial relations? And if not, who’s responsible for that? What are your thoughts? Below is what Toby Harnden, the UK Telegraph’s Washington correspondent thinks. But I like even better what a commenter to Harnden’s article, hinckleybuzzars, wrote:
“The fact is, the average American is not obsessed with race. The average American is too busy trying to survive the impact of Obama’s disastrous economic dislocations and the resulting unemployment. We over here have numerous reasons for opposing this miscreant and race has nothing to do with any of them. But the Obama regime continues to make race an issue. They believe they can benefit politically by keeping the nation polarized, by demonizing their opposition with the racist card, and generally sabotaging any honest dialog about policies.”
Barack Obama’s election did not usher in a post-racial America. Instead, speaking honesty about race is taboo, writes Toby Harnden in Washington
By Toby Harnden – Jan 16, 2010
A year ago, Americans were basking in what many believed was a post-racial new dawn. The United States was just about to inaugurate its first black President. Across the world, those who had pronounced the country too mired in its past to elect an African-American were being forced to reassess.
Fast forward to last week and the American chattering classes were engaged in the kind discussion about race that makes one despair. I use the term “discussion” but that’s over-egging things – it was really a mud-slinging contest in which Republicans and Democrats shouted tired old slogans at each other.
The matter at issue was comments by Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, made during the 2008 election campaign. Obama was electable, Reid observed, because he was “light-skinned” and did not “speak with a Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one”. Reid knew he was in big trouble and immediately rushed out a statement of apology when his words, quoted in a new campaign book, became public. He had forgotten that race was a taboo subject. His use of the term “Negro” was a little anachronistic, though the National Council of Negro Women and United Negro College Fund still exist. But it wasn’t exactly the other N-word.
Reid, who is fighting for his political life in Nevada, where polls have him trailing badly in his November re-election contest, has said many stupid things. Three years ago, he declared that the Iraq war “is lost”. Last month he compared Republicans who opposed healthcare reform to those who once clung to slavery. But this time his sin was really to speak the truth.
Part of candidate Obama’s special appeal was that he was a black man who made white people feel exceedingly good about themselves – not least because he was half white and had been raised by a white mother and grandparents. At the same time, Obama showed himself to be at ease among blacks who had, unlike him, lived through the civil rights era and were descended from slaves. Thus, Obama walked the tightrope between being too black and being not black enough. One of the ways he did that was to alter his tone and cadence depending on the audience he was speaking to – as many politicians do. He was elected partly because of a huge black turnout in which 95 per cent of blacks voted for him. But he also improved on the proportion of white voters who had backed the white Democratic candidate in 2004.
It was Republicans who jumped on Reid and accused him, with stultifying predictability, of being a racist. But Democrats have played the same game. Allies of the Obama campaign insinuated that Hillary Clinton was racist when she stated that it took President Lyndon Johnson to turn Martin Luther King’s vision into reality. Even Bill Clinton, the much-vaunted “first black president”, was branded a racist (the code used was “playing the race card”) for declaring Obama’s candidacy a “fairy tale”. Ditto for the Clinton operative who stated that Obama was like “your cool black friend”. Ditto for the Republican congressional candidate said of Obama “you can have your Tiger Woods” (and that was when Woods was Mr Squeaky Clean). They had both broken the unspoken rule that white politicians should avoid talking about race beyond the occasional homage to “diversity”.
When Congressman Joe Wilson yelled the intemperate accusation “You lie!” at Obama during a presidential speech to Congress last year, former President Jimmy Carter said that he was motivated by racism. Columnist Maureen Dowd opined that Wilson really meant: “You lie, boy!” Last July, Obama didn’t exactly help matters by publicly leaping to the conclusion that a white policeman arresting a black Harvard professor was acting “stupidly”. Republican operatives confide that one of the reasons why Michael Steele cannot be ousted as party chairman just yet – despite widespread dissatisfaction with his performance – is because he is black.
So what happened to treating people not “by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”? Ironically, Martin Luther King Day will be marked across the country tomorrow but this dream of King’s is not being fulfilled. American politicians have got themselves into a real bind. They have to fret constantly about race but cannot talk honestly about it.