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Has the dream of Martin Luther King Jr been fulfilled?

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Has the dream of Martin Luther King Jr been fulfilled?

Alex Helling's picture
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Martin Luther King Jr wrote:
“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 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!”

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of what may well be the most famous speech in history. Martin Luther King Jr’s I have a dream speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. And for a speech not made by a political decision maker it may also be one of the most influential speeches in history; the speech could quite possibly be taken as the point where discrimination on the basis of race became unacceptable.

For the most part today it is true that people are not judged by the colour of their skin. There are still cases of racism – the recent stand your ground shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida has been seen by many activists as such a case. Martin Luther King III takes this case as showing “A half-century later, however, African American youth still have good reason to fear racially motivated violence.” And even while everyone is equal before the law this is not always the case in the implementation of the law – and this is the case not just in the United States but also in the UK, and probably almost every other country as well. In the United States the recent striking down of stop and frisk showed a clear racial targeting and in the UK a report on police tackling of drug users has shown that black men are much more likely to be stopped, arrested, and convicted of possession.

But if things are not perfect on the fundamental equalities front they are certainly a lot better than they were in 1963. (formal) Segregation has ended, voting rights are no longer suppressed, and education opportunities have been equalised. The Civil Rights Act which was signed only a year after the speech prohibited discrimination of all kinds.

Yet while the speech itself may in theory have been in large part fulfilled the theme of the march has not. The march in Washington was not just about equality but was themed ‘Jobs and Freedom’. So there is more freedom, but what about jobs?

Kings own speech although about freedom and justice also, albeit obliquely, talked about the jobs side of the march

Martin Luther King Jr wrote:
America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice

Economically there has been little improvement in the United States. The income of blacks has increased since 1967 but it has not done so any faster than the general rate of growth. So while the median income of a black household has risen from $24,000 to $40,000 as a share of whites income the change has been small, from 55% to 59%. In dollar terms the gap has grown from $19,000 to 27,000. Other gaps are similarly unchanged; the unemployment rate has remained double that of whites and the percentage of black families owning their home has remained just above 40% while home ownership has increased for whites.

With such economic inequality persisting it is perhaps not surprising that there are a large number of people who don’t see much progress. 27% of blacks see only a little or no progress towards MLK’s dream of racial equality since the speech. And a large number of people agree the glass is only half full with 79% of whites and 44% of blacks saying a lot more needs to be done in order to achieve racial equality.

The civil rights movement therefore succeeded in getting rid of the formal barriers to equality without actually achieving real equality at the same time. The visible manifestation to this is the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States without a real improvement for the majority of blacks. The United States has become a more unequal nation over the last few decades and it has become less mobile. As this occurs it becomes harder and harder to alter the economic imbalance.

So has the dream been fulfilled or is there still more to be done? If there is a need for a dream today is it MLK’s dream or is it a rebuilding of the ‘American Dream’ where everyone can make their way to the top if they work hard enough; a rolling back of the loss of mobility?

I am not sure whether it shows the progress that has been made that we don’t have much in the way of debates on the issue of race or that the debatabase is somewhat blinkered. It is good that most issues of racial discrimination are considered so self-evidently wrong that there is no point in a debate on the issue because it would not make for a good two sided debate, yet at the same time this means the debatabase tends to ignore the remaining problems. What do you think?

Debatabase debate ‘This House supports the creation of single-race public schools’ http://idebate.org/debatabase/debates/education/house-supports-creation-single-race-public-schools

http://www.usconstitution.net/dream.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/martin-luther-king-iii-fifty-years-later-work-still-to-do/2013/08/27/a40b361a-0aa2-11e3-8974-f97ab3b3c677_story.html?hpid=z2

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/08/22/kings-dream-remains-an-elusive-goal-many-americans-see-racial-disparities/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/0/23815398

1 year 2 days ago
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