Keeping Dr. King’s “Dream” Alive by Rebuilding America

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his unifying “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963. This defining moment in history was one of the many catalysts that afforded many Americans, such as myself, the privilege of reading about the unspeakable acts of racism, instead of experiencing it.

I can sit anywhere on a bus. I can go to non-segregated water fountains, bathrooms, schools, restaurants, and swimming pools. I don’t have to worry about being lynched or beaten. I don’t have to fear being hosed down while practicing my constitutional right to protest. I don’t have to worry about serious repercussions for being involved in an interracial relationship. I am truly grateful for these freedoms, and the sacrifices that Dr. King, activists, and everyday people have made to help create this reality.

Despite the progress and achievements, I can’t wholeheartedly say that I’m not judged by the color of my skin, but by the content of my character. Being born in the 80’s, I should have a more positive outlook on certain issues – but I don’t. I initially feared that President Barack Obama wouldn’t win his first presidential election solely because he is black, and if he won, he would be assassinated. Many people don’t like to admit it, but these repulsive scenarios are still very real 50 years after MLK’s speech.

Where is my skepticism coming from? Why is someone who has only seen “whites only” signs in history books and documentaries, have so much mistrust? It’s because Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” has not completely come into fruition. I often deal with racism, but it’s usually concealed. Most of the time, I try not to think about it so my heart won’t fill with anger. The danger in subliminal racism is that its’ existence can easily be denied; therefore, change never happens. I decided to give my version of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” with some of my experiences 50 years after he gave his speech. I am not even attempting to be prolific like Dr. King, but simply want to convey how this speech is still relevant in my world.

I Have a Dream 2013

“I have a dream that I can enter a nice neighborhood and people will believe that I live there, and not profile me and follow me home (it happened to me).  I have a dream that I won’t be treated like a thief when I misplace my receipt when returning/exchanging an item at the store. I have a dream that people won’t assume that I didn’t go to college or that I have children. I have a dream that the black youth will have the freedom to wear any type of clothing in their closet, without it giving people the urge to shoot them.  I have a dream people will stop treating me like a stereotype and/or a statistic.

I have a dream that people will stop pretending that racism doesn’t exist. I have a dream that the justice system will finally be colorblind. I have a dream that racism, whether blatant or covert will be an ancient concept. I have a dream that one day, people will realize that concealed racism in any form is painful. I have a dream that I won’t have to write articles like this.

I have a dream that all races will finally realize that they belong to something bigger – the human race.”

There is a reason why Dr. King made stated,  “1963 is not an end, but a beginning,” in his “I Have a Dream” speech.  He anticipated the long journey ahead, and what Americans would have to endure to reach the destination he dreamed of.  I welcome everyone to join me in hopes of finally chanting, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last!”

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Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

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The Pressure to NOT Stand Up for Trayvon Martin

Given the current social climate in America – I feel obligated to address this huge elephant in the room.

The fact is… I feel pressure to not incessantly advocate for Trayvon Martin, despite my urge to do so. Pressure from whom, you may ask? Society. What makes this even more embarrassing and ironic is – I’m black.  I’m not proud to admit to my previous statement, but I’m here to be honest. Deep down, I sometimes feel as if publicly advocating for someone of my race can actually hurt efforts to make a change. I fear it will transform the issue to be only perceived as a “black issue.” I think what should be foremost on people’s minds when thinking about this case, is that an unarmed, young, human being was murdered after being profiled and stalked by a man who didn’t identify himself as a neighborhood watchman. This is not a “black thing.” This is a “My God, that poor child could have been my son, my brother, my cousin, my friend, or neighbor” thing.

When you’re black and speak out against racism, some people look at you like you have a conflict of interest. I will also admit that I was ambivalent about choosing this piece as my first commentary for my blog. My ambivalence comes from not wanting people to label my blog as a blog about the perils of racism or that I’ll be labeled as the “angry black blogger.” It’s sad, but my experiences have made me extremely self-conscious and aware of how my words and actions can be misinterpreted simply because I’m black. In America, when you’re black, and speak up against something that many people feel uncomfortable discussing, you risk being labeled as the “angry black person.” In general, I don’t feel free to openly express myself on these types of matters without being labeled. Given the nature and title of my blog, it would be inappropriate and hypocritical not to write about this.

About a year ago, I signed an online petition for George Zimmerman to be arrested and charged with murder. I decided to circulate the petition via email instead of publicly posting it on my Facebook timeline. Facebook is a great platform to bring awareness to an issue, but my apprehensions made me decide not to. I didn’t want to desensitize my non-black friends to this issue by having them only see their black friends expressing outrage. This is why it’s so important for people of other races to speak out against injustices towards people who are not of their race/ethnicity.

I’ve seen people on Facebook complain about black people writing about an injustice relating to someone else who is black. I’ve also read numerous comments for online articles, and noticed patterns in certain types of articles. For example, I usually notice the following type of statements when reading articles about George Zimmerman being on trial: “Al Sharpton is always whining about something…” “These black people always get mad when one of their own die, but don’t care when it’s because of black on black crime…” “I bet you they wouldn’t care if that happened to a white person…” There are other comments that I will not repeat, because it’s just flat out racist.

On the other hand, I am extremely proud of the Facebook statuses expressing dismay and disgust that were posted by my non-black friends.  The fact that I felt to compelled to share that in 2013 is not only sad, but proves how huge the problem is. When I saw those posts, I felt relieved and hopeful. It showed me that this verdict affected America as a whole. Days after the verdict, people of all races, whether it was a journalist, blogger, commenter, or even a friend on Facebook, were still expressing their disappointment, anger, and frustration about what happened. For the first time, I saw people who don’t look like me venting about the inequality of our justice system with as much passion that I have about the issue. As a black woman, I needed that validation. It validated that my struggles with discrimination are not just in my head in the eyes of others, but is also apparent to people who don’t share this burden.

Many think that our nation is becoming more divided because of the recent dialogue about race in America, but I perceive it as progression. Dialogue is the first step for change. We were all taught to believe that racism no longer exists in America, because of the abolition of slavery, and now even more so because we have a black president. Americans are realizing that pretending that racism and discrimination doesn’t exist, doesn’t make it go away, and it only makes the problem worse. When people see that everyone is outraged, it makes the issues harder to ignore and forces society to act as a whole.

We are all human beings and need start perceiving injustice as something that is a universal threat, and not just when it’s a threat to our own communities. This applies to everyone, especially black people. Sometimes, I see people allow racism to seep into their hearts because of hurtful past experiences. For example, I was shocked and disgusted when many people celebrated the O.J. Simpson verdict. I understand that he had to be acquitted because of the reasonable doubt brought into the case due to the LAPD’s lead investigator, Mark Fuhrman, being a racist who handled the crime scene’s evidence. What astonished me was that many people in the black community celebrated O.J.’s acquittal, simply because he was black, and not because they believed he was innocent. When asked if I was happy with the verdict, and that a black man wasn’t convicted, I would reply,  “I’m not happy. A man just got away with murder. Who cares if he’s black?” I felt ashamed while watching the news and seeing flocks of black people cheering and holding up signs of support for a murderer. This sad moment in history displays how the black community is so used to the justice system failing them that many would celebrate an injustice, because a black person was finally on the receiving end of a favorable verdict. This doesn’t excuse this type of mentality, but it’s a testament of the how deeply rooted the mistrust in justice being blind is.

We can never give Trayvon Martin’s parents their son back, but we can make sure that he did not die in vain, and I believe that is already happening. Because of him, the stigma of hoodies has been addressed and is changing. I grew up with my mother telling my little brother not to wear his hood at night, because some people, including cops, perceive black boys and men wearing hoodies as criminals. She told him that she didn’t want anyone to use that as an excuse to shoot him. Maybe, one day when I have children, I won’t have to worry about having to repeat my mother’s sadly accurate advice to them. I think we’re finally getting closer to that day.