The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is upon us, and the occasion will bring many opportunities for celebrating how far America has progressed in matters of race since 1963. There is certainly much to celebrate and honor, but there is also plenty to mourn. In addition to offering eloquent oratory commemorating that momentous day of August 28, 1963, I would like to see our first African-American President of the United States preside over a national public funeral mourning the decision of the United States Supreme Court to dismantle the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a direct by-product of the March on Washington.
The dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared that day still seems to be very much that, a dream. Fear and hate are alive and well in the hearts and minds of many of my fellow Americans. It’s evident in the annual statistics compiled by the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. It’s evident in the vile rhetoric of popular talking heads like Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly, hatemongers who have followers numbering in the tens of millions. It’s evident in the actions and remarks I see and hear among everyday people.
You don’t have to look far for examples of the institutional racism that persists in American society. Look at who are the majority of people stopped and frisked by police, the disparities in sentences handed down by courts, the demographics of the prison population and those who live in poverty, and the inequities of public school funding. Look at who is most likely to be disenfranchised by the recent voter I.D. laws instituted in dozens of states. Listen to the statements made by representatives and senators in Congress in the debates on immigration reform. Racism is alive and well and deeply embedded in our American institutions. It’s quite obvious to those who are the victims of it.
Yes, let us celebrate the progress made, but let us also bear in mind the regresses and all the considerable work that lies before us. Fifty years later, Dr. King’s dream is still worthy of fruition.