Tuesday, August 27, 2013
I Have a Dream
The Reflecting Pool on the Mall, Washington, DC, 28 August 1963.
Tomorrow, 28 August, is the 50th anniversary of the speech famously known as "I Have a Dream" by the Doctor Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior, delivered on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Much is certainly being said and done to mark this anniversary, and this blogger will make a couple of observations on the occasion. I will not get into the particulars of the whole range of Dr. King's beliefs, positions, and personal life. These are rather complex, not uniformly edifying, and are a discussion, perhaps, for another day and another venue.
MLK delivering his famous "I Have a Dream" Speech.
My observations today, however, will only hinge on that particularly memorable line of the speech: "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 their character."
Two points immediately present themselves in response to that statement.
In the first place, I think the statement is so moving and memorable because there is a solid grounding in truth that underlies this "dream." We should, indeed, be concerned with the character of a man, rather than on his particular race. All men ought to be equal under law, insofar as reason allows and permits. Law is, after all, "an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated." It is incumbent on everyone, regardless of their own race, to treat others with charity, respect, and at the very least, in justice. Certainly, public officials have a grave obligation in this regard. In addition, we should by all means extend charity to the poor and the disadvantaged -- of any and every race!
The second thought regards the interpretation of this statement and the larger, and more difficult question, of race relations, especially in the United States. To a great many people, equal rights seems to mean not a matter of equality under law, or in treating folks justly, but of something rather different. Many seem to assume that equality should mean either equal societal status in terms or wealth or power on one hand, or reparation for past wrongs, on the other. History is filled with accounts of injustice, inequality, and tragedy. That of the United States is certainly no exception; and a single ethnic group can by no means claim a monopoly on being the object of such injustice. An agenda of revenge, of coercive redistribution of wealth, of legal preferences -- these hardly contribute positively to society or truly right the wrongs of the past, however.
If it was wrong to benefit from the labor of the slave without paying wages, how can you take the wages of an innocent man to make restitution for something he had nothing to do with? If it was wrong to impose segregation or legal restrictions on those of a certain race, how is it acceptable to promote quotas or race-based preferences? If we are committed to fair and honest elections -- one man, one vote -- how can we claim it is racist to require identification of all voters, regardless of race to ensure that each eligible voter casts a single ballot?
At the same time, while the law and justice demands that we treat all equally, nature and experience tells us that folks do have cultural and ethnic differences. As well it should be. Equality can not and should not mean that there is no recognition of such differences in people. Different peoples have different customs, music, foods, histories, heroes, and languages. We should not deny to a race or ethnic group its strengths or unique characteristics. At the same time, it makes little sense to ignore the prevailing faults of a people, especially if you are charged with the common good. Denying someone their legal rights based on race alone is an injustice. Ignoring statistics and failing to remain vigilant of trends within ethnic groups seems naïve.
In the end, we should dream of a "a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character." We should treat individuals with justice, respect, and charity; we should acknowledge and appreciate the strengths and contributions of various races and ethnic groups; and, especially for those entrusted with the common good, there should be an awareness of the predominate faults of each group. That is this bloggers two cents, anyway!
To close, I will note to you a couple sites that commemorate the life and achievements of Dr. King:
In Washington, DC: NPS: MLK Memorial
and in Atlanta, Georgia: NPS: MLK National Historic Site
Also, for reference, here is a link to the full text of the speech: "I Have A Dream," 28 August 1963.
Stamp of Booker T. Washington.
Finally, here is a link to the historic site that commemorates this blogger's favorite "Civil Rights" leader of US History: NPS: Booker T. Washington National Monument