The words were not just a vision, but an attitude of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all Americans.
But, we had to get there first.
41 years later, where are we?
Looking at the current state of race in America, people must remember that examining racial attitudes are always more dangerous -- and sobering -- than examining race relations at face value. Racial attitudes are often related in the mass media. African-Americans still have the "cool" factor for their music and fashion sense; but what value do non-blacks place on these "African" signifiers?
Instead of wondering where Africans-Americans are today in the career rat-race, perhaps we should delve into inter-personal relationships -- how minorities and whites interact on a day-to-day basis. Does the love-hate complex of black vs. white still exist and if so, how does it manifest itself? Will whites ever not think of blacks as suspicious, temperamental, or stupid? Will blacks ever not wonder whether whites can be really "down," not snotty or racist?
To be truthful, in writing this column, I feel as though I am posing questions and answers to attitudes which I don't have. As a young man, I wasn’t alive when Dr. King was living. I have grown up during the journey, not the beginning (of the Civil Rights era), so I don't have a clear sense of how other ethnicities felt or feel; but I can note the inconsistencies.
Increasingly I feel that my race is being used -- my outside likeness -- as a corporate knockoff of how a man should be, not malignant discrimination, but I am nothing like these sellable youth images or “brands.” I am not the pimp. I am not the sports player and I don't have the "bling, bling." The vision of black men that corporate America has for the teenage and young adults may be good for business, but bad for self-worth. Since the civil rights movement, the super-masculine black male has been a perennial image of sexual magic and primal urges.
The black female has turned from "Mamie" to the affronting "black bitch" that white men can't handle. Both of these stereotypes lead me to believe that being strong and black in the eyes of whites continues to be a problem.
In the '90s, those blacks able to get media attention often were not the progressive activists, but conservative pundits, seen as the bellwether of how blacks could be if they only 'assimilated.' But how can one assimilate when inequalities of poverty and economic opportunities are so stark? I can only imagine the decisions some blacks in power must make in situations where raising a concern about the fate of the worker masses (many of whom are your own) which may jeopardize your own position as a good executive "sticking to the bottom line." No, we cannot look at corporate America to be our savior or measuring stick upon which to grade how far we've come.
When it comes to the mass media, where is there room to argue? No one can deny that blacks and minorities sing a bad (if not distorted) rap. Even with crime statistics showing that drug usage is a suburban phenomenon, the local news continues to load its newscasts with gritty portraits of urban blight as if poor, black ghetto were the source of urban decay rather than the "white flight" processes that created the situation to begin with.
January 21st should be the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, instead for many Americans, it's still a workday. How are we to celebrate and contemplate King's memory when people still have to go about their daily routine? The media covering the President and First Lady's visit with the King family has become a ritual in which many people don't pay attention. To end the boredom, why don't they ever let regular white people tell what they think MLK day is?
Is King’s dream more than just a "minority mouth-off day"? (Would it really matter if it was?)
We need more leaders like Martin Luther King, resistant to the current socio-economic system; but unfortunately, even he has been working (posthumously) for Alcatel.
Tommy Ates is a syndicated columnist whose work has appeared in several publications, such as The Chicago Tribune, The Houston Chronicle, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, The Wichita Eagle, and The Macon Telegraph. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org