Monday, January 16, 2006

I Have a Dream

In January 1987, the United States celebrated its second official Martin Luther King, Junior holiday. I was in third grade. As part of the commemoration at school, each of us had to identify a dream of ours, and draw a picture to accompany it. To set the stage, our teacher read to us the relevant part of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

I remember thinking this was a stupid assignment. For starters, I did not consider myself visionary, nor artistic, so I found the desired work product daunting. (Please just assign me a book report, ok?) But, more importantly, I thought it was ridiculous to be generating new dreams when we had not yet achieved the vision Martin Luther King espoused. I liked what he had to say. I shared that vision. Why did we need other, new ideas?

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 loved the Declaration of Independence as only an eight-year old can, and cherished the notion that our Founding Fathers thought we were all equals. This was before I knew Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, before I realized black men gained suffrage long before that right was extended to women, before I discovered that a woman's earning power is only 77% of that of a man.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. This sounded like a good idea. I didn't know any black people, but I couldn't imagine not sitting down and having dinner together. The Huxtables seemed like a family we would be friends with. Never mind that they're fictional, I was sure there were other people like them, just not in my neighborhood. I was convinced I would have black friends if I lived in a big city, like New York or Chicago or Milwaukee.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I wasn't sure quite what things were like in the state of Mississippi, having never been there, but if there was still injustice and oppression going on, then we should definitely do something to change that.

I have a dream that my four 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. Well, duh. Even apart from the ugliness of racism – which I had never witnessed, let alone experienced firsthand – I knew I wanted to be judged on my character. This was before George W. Bush led us to war based on faulty intelligence, before Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury, before I knew what the Iran-Contra affair was about, before I learned why Gary Hart dropped out of the race for President. (Somewhere in my parents' basement there is a Gary Hart button that belongs to me.) This "content of one’s character" was a standard we should apply to everyone, essentially asking, Are you a good person? It's almost intuitive to a third-grader.

I knew the Civil Rights movement had occurred decades before, and that we, as a society, had made significant progress since that time. I knew that we hadn't met all of the challenges Martin Luther King, Jr. laid out for us, but I was fairly confident that by the time I was an adult, his vision would be realized.

That was then. Nearly two decades later, it pains me to report that I was wrong. In 2004, the median household income for blacks was 64% of that of whites. 24.7% of black Americans live in poverty — a rate twice the national average. Of the 45.8 million people in this country without health insurance, 13.7 million are Hispanic, 7.2 million are black, and 16.8 million are Asian. Business ownership is concentrated in the hands of white men: women own 28% of the businesses in the U.S.; Hispanics 7%; blacks and Asians, 5% apiece.

This is not the America of which I dreamed.

And so I wonder, What is your dream? Not only for yourself, and your children, but for the nation? And, are you doing something about it? Dr. King dreamt of equality, of brotherhood, of an end to injustice and oppression, of the triumph of integrity. Beginning today, let us work tirelessly to achieve these, and all of our dreams.


At Tue Jan 17, 07:31:00 AM PST, Anonymous Heather Rochford said...

Well said, poodle.

At Fri Jan 20, 04:45:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

damn agitator. why can't you let me be? I quite enjoy my stupor. and I have a new year's resolution list 2 pages long. I gotta lose weight. I don't have time to dream.


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