I was watching video of Dr. King's famed "I Have a Dream Speech" (a cruddy video is available here, along with audio downloads, and a transcript), when a few things struck me that I have to get off my chest.
1) Racism is still alive and (un)well in America today. For example, Dr. King used the word "negro" 14 times in his speech. I think it's safe to say that Dr. King didn't consider it to be derogatory in his day, and from my limited knowledge of the time period, it wasn't considered offensive. The question for me becomes, why is "negro" considered racist language today?
I believe that the underlying reason is that we, the American people, assign racist connotations to each new word we come up with to describe "people of color". Our nation hasn't magically progressed to an enlightened stage where we've suddenly realized that we were backwards nearderthals to use the word "negro". Again to best of my knowledge, even the n-word, which will not be used on this blog, began with a far less demeaning denotation. I think we have to admit the problem goes a heck of a lot deeper than what words we use - the problem is racist thinking that lurks in the shadows. We can keep coming up with new "minority words", but we'll accomplish nothing. The only way we're going to be able to move towards the elimination of racism, is not to run and pretend it doesn't exist, but rather to face it head-on.
2) Despite our shortcomings, we have made progress since the days of Dr. King. One example I noticed last month was President Bush's' response to the allegation of Kayne West and others that the governments slow response to Hurricane Katrina was motivated by racial factors. In this article, Bush said, "You can call me anything you want, but do not call me a racist." This statement is telling.
As a white person in America today, I can think of few insults that would hit harder than being called a racist. I think this really shows that some things really have changed since the days of Dr. King. In the United States, racism is *NOT* ok. Of course, in some respects I believe this has developed to the point where we have a vicious and not always beneficial intolerance of intolerance.
Don't get me wrong - I despise racism as much as the next guy, but I wonder how we can "cure" racists if we're unwilling to even acknowledge the existence of the opinions of the "diseased". In my experience, if you shout someone down, they're not going to even consider your point of view. I think it's great that racism is no longer the norm or for that matter acceptable, and maybe I'm simply naive, but to an extent I think we need to try and tolerate the intolerant.
On a lighter note, I have to say waving at the camera in hopes of being noticed on TV is really obnoxious and dumb-looking in any era. It's ridiculous how many people you can spot in the video of Dr. King's speech throwing their hands around in hopes of getting their 10 fingers of fame. Look at this:
Granted, Dr. King looks pretty awesome when he throws his arm up. But hey, it's his speech - he can do whatever he wants and still be cool! I'll even give a pardon to the man in front doing a fist pump - he appears to be genuinely caught up in the words of the Dr., and even if he is just trying to get some TV time, at least he had the decency to actually face Dr. King. However, the two attention hogs (yes, white dude flapping the pamphlet - that means you and your pal over King's left shoulder) look kinda silly. I mean, sure, you can show your grandkids the video, but how well is that going to go over...?
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
-Martin Luther King Jr.
January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968
January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968