*This was written as an emotional response to ‘mlk boulevard: the concrete dream’ a documentary which aired on the discovery channel a few years ago.
“…The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.” Martin Luther King
When Martin Luther King Jr wrote his ‘I Have a Dream ‘speech, it was with the impression that there was something American that belonged to the Negro. Something that had been denied him. A discrepancy King addressed as a ‘shameful condition’. Today, I am writing to dramatize an equally shameful condition. That of ignorance and complacency. There is little question that in Dr Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech his intent and goal was equal treatment for blacks under the law. Dr King was influenced by the segregation of a period known as the Jim Crow South and considered the Negro ‘an exile in his own land’, despite ancestral slave history. I make this distiction to address the ignorance I mentioned, but not to the detriment of Dr. King’s legacy.
When the European Settlers first arrived on the shores of the Americas, these lands belonged to a people depicted by them as barbarian and warlike ‘savages’, a tribal people called ‘Indians’ because the Americas were referred to as the ‘West Indies’. When the white man arrived in Indian Territory, there was no way the natives could have been prepared for what would befall them. It was not until the Colonists began to expand westward did the Natives find reason to be hostile. What was once ignored, and since ‘forgotten’, is that the European ‘settlers’ were invaders from the perspective of Native Americans. Invaders now depicted as a benevolent and cultured race. ‘The leaders of the free world’.
Native Americans are the true exiles of whom King spoke. A people who had lived here for centuries before the European Settlers arrived. A people who’s honor and integrity would eventually lead to their downfall. These are the people who have had what belonged to them stripped away, only to be fenced in on all sides by ‘reservations’ established for them by ‘lawful decree’. The Negro was brought here as slave labor, and wars have been fought for our freedom. But the wars fought by the Native Americans are depicted as wild and hostile attacks against life, limb, and property. No other race has fought for the freedom of Native Americans. No cry of repatriation or reparation has gone up for the disgraces that have been perpetrated upon them. Native Americans are still on the same reserves ‘given’ to them by the Americans who first took the land from them.
Native Americans have endured countless atrocities perpetrated upon them during the colonial years. Though they escaped enslavement, they almost did not escape the American expansion westward intact as a people. What remains of Native Americans now are a people seeking recognition of their culture and heritage, but on their reserves they are coddled by the government to keep them pliant. In colonial times, it was alcohol, now in the modern, it is gambling and tobacco. Native American have had a different type of American ‘freedom’ granted them, a freedom that extends only to their ‘official’ government reservations. Though desirable in comparison to the freedom Black Americans have received, neither equates with the freedom both Native Americans and Africans Americans enjoyed before the Europeans settled their lands.
When Africa was first visited by Europeans, those tribes not initially hostile were used to catch and transport other tribes as slaves for them for centuries. In the African homeland, the native African has only recently been ‘freed’ from European Apartied, the older brother to American Segregation. Before being set free by Lincoln’s historical speech, American slaves suffered cruelly at the hands of their slave owners. After being ‘freed’, one hundred years more they endured discrimination, torture, and murder because of the prejudiced, the likes of which inspired Dr. King. Since then, we have been lifted up from the lows of segregation and discrimination, formally apologized to, and reinterred as ‘Americans of African decent’. All within the last forty years.
But how much equality has actually resulted? How much of King’s Dream can be found in modern standards of society? In 1963, the words of King’s dream rang out clearly: “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’.
Forty years ago ‘separate but equal’ was the reality of King’s time. Segregation meant that black and whites had separate facilities and water faucets. Segregation meant that blacks couldn’t attend white schools, work ‘white’ jobs, or live in white neighborhoods. Segregation meant that the majority of whites did not believe that blacks were entitled to the same comforts, the same standard of living, or the same opportunities in life that whites were entitled to. The discrimination of King’s time meant that the average white American determined what neighborhoods blacks could live in, the purchasing power of black money, and how much of the ‘American Pie’ blacks could actually partake of.
Today, ‘equality’ equates with ‘equal opportunity’. Every man, woman, and child has equal opportunity and access to the America Dream. But the equal opportunity of today’s America does not cover birth conditions, intelligence levels, or handicap. If a man is born crippled, dumb, or broke, the American Dream is a ‘carrot’ to his horse. Even though equal opportunity exists for such a one, capitalism is the tether of the American Dream and the American Way does not provide for those unable to pull their own weight. It is evident that America does not provide for all her citizens equally. Those who can not, or will not, conform to accepted societal norms are ostracized, or worse, left to languish and die in poverty. Native Americans, both impoverished on the whole and ostracized culturally, are exempted from this part of American reality by virtue of their treaties and reservations.
Native Americans concessions were an after thought and fabricated to placate them, just as slave concessions were. But each was handled differently and the discrepancies are hidden behind politics. ‘Separate but equal’ still exists as the Indians still occupy the governmental reserves set aside to isolate them from society at large. Whereas Black Americans were given ‘affirmative action’, an inverted segregation that requires whites to *include* other races in all aspects of American commerce and education. It implies White Americans control the majority of American economical prosperity, and they do. It further implies that Black Americans would otherwise be excluded in the obtaining of said prosperity, and they have been. But this is true for both African and Native Americans now even as it was then. The dream continues:
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.
The US Constitution begins: “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution….”
The reason for establishing the constitution was, as noted, for the provision of white male liberty, at the implied preclusion of all others. When these words were written, Indians, African slaves, and women had no tangible part in the mentioned blessings of liberty. It was only extended to those European Settlers, their families, and their posterity contemporary to the times. Articles of Amendments were later adopted to specifically account for race (Natives and Africans), color (any non-white), previous condition of servitude (former slaves), and gender (women). Ariticle 13, adopted in 1865, abolished slavery but only after the bloody ‘Brothers’ War’. Significance duly noted, for was it not Cain who first asked ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’
The Table of Brotherhood represents the concept of unity despite perceived racial or cultural barriers, an understanding King first intimated at in the quote ‘all men are created equal’. What King understood then as common to all men were the basic necessities of life: sustenance, shelter, and clothing. Forty years later, they are still common to all men, and in America, poverty persists, and the impoverished live in want of basic necessities. Still the Negro comprises the majority of America’s impoverished. Still the Native American languishes in their reserves, surrounded by a nation of wealth. Where European Settlers have come to rule, whites have the best of all things, as they are rarely prejudiced against their own skill color. In history, Whites were instrumental in civil rights and liberty for both Native Americans and African slave descendants, but an even greater majority fought against it. By simply doing nothing, either for or against.
Am I my brother’s keeper? Under the principles of Equality, all of humanity are brethren, regardless of status, wealth, or lack of it. American equality constitutes slavery in every respect. One is obligated to labor in the service of others for wages with which one may obtain the necessary basics for life. Welfare and programs targeted at serving those in need are nothing more than slight of hand illusion and misleading . America’s first priority is her wealthy citizens, none of whom are likely to sit at a table with anyone not at least comparatively wealthy, let alone that of Brotherhood. This is the way of the world’s wealthy, all of whom amass wealth to secure the blessings and liberty of themselves and their prosperity. There is no Brotherhood yet. King continues:
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.
In 1963, Mississippi was the center of racial contention between blacks and whites, a period of history that is well known and documented. King was a victim as well as a witness to the injustice and oppression of the Mississippi of his time, hence the limited size of his dream oasis. Freedom and Justice must also be seated at the Table of Brotherhood when it is established, along side Equality. Freedom by modern standards is equivalent to wealth. Justice can be bought or sold by those able to do so. For the poor, justice of any sort excludes their needful existence. Whether victim or victimizer, the poor prey upon the poor because they cannot prey upon the wealthy who prey upon them.
The wealthy have access to anything they want anytime they want it. They have the resources and can pay the exorbitant fees associated with such a lifestyle while those who cater to their every whim can only ‘American Dream’ of one day joining them. The pretense of American Independence is the equality of all men, but the reality is money. The likes of which makes or breaks the American individual and Family, regardless of race or color. Capitalism is the mechanism of the world economy, and it is powered by the flesh and blood of human beings. People who, because of human need and no other available option, must toil and labor in service to others in order to survive. True Freedom and equal justice is not available to all for very few have the power to effect such things for themselves. The heat of oppression and injustice is epidemic in the world and visible for all to see. In America, it is subtle, as the wealth of its citizens obfuscates it. If anything, it has been changed into a totally different, apparently harmless creature call the American Dream. Alien when compared to the heart of King’s dream:
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. I have a dream today!
Nothing is sacred from the lure of money and the perceived power of wealth, and it is by these things that men are judged, not their character. The wealthy are judged worthy of the best health care, education, and employment opportunities. The wealthy fill congress and the senate. The wealthy have run the white house since its inception. The wealthy have established the laws and shaped modern American society from its inception. It is the wealthy who are in positions of authority because only they can afford to be. To the poor are given the emergency room, public schools, and menial labor. The ‘worth’ of a man is judged by his wealth or lack of it, skin color notwithstanding. One’s character is either a bonus to your reputation, an irritation to be tolerated, or a reason to be incarcerated. Hindsight is twent-twenty, and the Dream of King has been lost in the pursuit of the American one:
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!
In the fourty years since these words were written, little children of all colors have graduated to holding hands as ‘Americans’, but not as ‘siblings’. African Americans, Native Americans, and White Americans can all hold hands and claim unity, but not as brothers in humanity. There is no place in America where this apect of the Dream is truly realized. Cultures and people of all nations work together, play together, and live together at every level of American life, from the highest height to the lowest depths. Wealth has broken down the barriers of color segregation in ways no law ever could, but at the same time it has erected new barriers that cannot be overcome without removing the need for money itself. Color is no longer the discriminating factor it once was. Money is. This aspect of King’s Dream will never materialize until money is removed as a factor. As for the future in King’s Dream, for many it will be a frightening one:
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.”
At the time, this was merely an obscure quote from the bible by a spiritual man. But the significance of these words in King’s dream are profound and indicative of what must be. Of what will be.
The impoverished of humanity is the ‘valley’ of this scripture. All those who daily struggle to survive in a world of abundance. The hills are those people who have money and can provide for themselves and their families above the basic necessities the impoverished struggle for. The mountains are the leadership and the powerful of the world. The people who are not bound by the daily constraints of ‘normal’ life. The people who have available to them every luxury, and no common care, worry, or fear. The people who believe themselves to be something other than what they are, simple human beings, because of their perceived status and wealth.
The rough places are those things which are harmful to the individual during the journey of life, the ‘sins’ that we are warned against. The rough places are to be avoided because they are detrimental to spiritual growth. The crooked places are those things which seem difficult to circumnavigate when encountered. Personal confrontations that, if mishandled, lead to regrettable actions. An example would be material loss that seem to cripple or constrain or personal loss that causes emotional duress leading to despair, confusion, or emotional instability. These are the things that happen to us when we come into contact with other people or events outside of our control.
A day in the life of the average human is focused on one of two things, depending on the day of the week or time of day: getting money or needing it. Survival of the human animal depends on sustenance and shelter, and money is the only way to survive without sacrificing one’s humanity by living out of a cave on ‘free’ land. Working for pay because the necessities of life cost money is the reason why we pay taxes. A life spent working for others to buy the necessities of life at the cost of one’s personal dreams is the reason why death seems harsh and unfair. All the time spent working and struggling to survive amounts to nothing when death calls. Working for others to pay taxes is an option. Death is a requirement. The wealthy and the powerful have produced a society in which the majority work for a few. A society that compels those who have no wealth or power to submit themselves to those who do. A society in which those of means have every advantage over those without. A society in which those without means are most likely to remain so.
Martin Luther King’s Dream is not yet realized. The trend to rename streets in honor of his memory is a token pat on the head for those demanding that something be done. What these renamed streets reveal about the American Dream and Martin Luther King’s is how one dream is valued over another. The neighborhoods that possess part of King’s Legacy are a testament to America’s dedication to the codes of Equality and Justice for All. The poor are not equal to the wealthy and ‘justice’ is only for those able to pay for it. The Dream of Martin Luther King is depicted in the streets renamed in his memory, revealing the full extent of America’s commitment to his words and her creed.
The need for keeping the Dream alive is long past. The momentum behind it died when the man who provided that momentum died. It is time to move from dream into reality. Dr King is dead. We who remain must take up the struggle and bear it, not simply support it. The hope of the people that was once in Dr Martin Luther King, now rests in us.
In conclusion, I again quote Dr. King:
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not the white citizen counselor or the klu klux klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to order than to justice.”
In a recent documentary titled ‘Mlk Boulevard: The Concrete Dream’ which aired on the Discovery Channel, a white female citizen counselor in Eugene, OR quoted the above in a show of support for the renaming of a street in honor of him. The vote failed six to two, but was reversed three days later. The city board had voted in support of economic order. A viable reason, euphemistically speaking, considering the expense business owners would have to go through to comply with the change. Historically speaking, one hundred percent in line with the American Way. But the kkk is no longer prominent, and the white citizen counselor is now publicly speaking out in favor of King, but what of the white moderate?
It is my regrettable conclusion that the moderate, no matter their color, is truly devoted to the order of things and the security of their lifestyle rather than to justice and liberty for all. The white moderate is no longer the great stumbling block to Negro progress, but all moderates. The fence riders and the wall flowers of all African, Native, and European descendants of this great nation impede the progress of all. With them the world could change. In any way we wanted to. Realize you’re dreaming.
Wake up and be realized.