As I sat on Sunday morning listening to the speech that Dr. Martin Luther King gave in 1963 in Washington DC, several thoughts began to come to me. I have read the speech several times over as it was made mandatory at my elementary school, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, then again at my middle school, ironically named CM Goethe Middle School, and again while attending John F. Kennedy High School, but I had never listened to it in its entirety.
I am well aware of Dr. Kings rhetoric in this speech, it is remarkable to say the least. I am well aware of his charismatic and inspiring sermon-like delivery, as it is something I grew up with at St. Paul Baptist Church thanks in large part to its pastor, Dr. Ephraim Williams. I am well aware of the “call to arms” for America, by taking a stand against social injustice and upholding civil rights. I am well aware of all of these things, yet, they stand in the back of my mind as I listen.
I hear Dr. King address the issues that stand before not just African Americans, but all Americans. Point after point, Dr. King is spot on. Segregation, the social shackles of post-slavery, and the dream that one day “Negros” will afford the same opportunity as our white brothers and sisters… I hear all of this and still only one word stands out in my mind: Negro. At this point in history African Americans were Negros. We weren’t the “African Americans” that we now so often demand to be called for politically correct purposes. Then it hit me; we mis-label ourselves even further as a people when we “endearingly” call each other “nigga”. Nigga, which most will say is the play on the word nigger, is an ugly word used to debase, degrade, and dehumanize us. It saddens me to think that so much has been lost in translation that even our own people have reduced our sense of self exponentially by referring to each other with such a word to the point that now other cultures and ethnicities believe that it is cool.
Like some people, even today I myself still associate with Negro or black, and pridefully so. I can’t stand to be called nigga, and “African American” always bothered me as a youth, and even still now as an adult. I try to steer clear of “African American” as I have never even been to Africa nor do I know of any family of mine that resides there. The only time I use it is when I know it is expected of me; like on a standardized test or when the people I am speaking to would not otherwise understand nor care to hear my explanation as to why I do not use it. Yet here we are today, still addressing ourselves as Africans and niggas, when I have never even seen one African at any of my family reunions, and I find nothing endearing about a play on the word nigger.
It hurts me. We have strayed so far from Dr. King’s idea of the Negro and how we should see ourselves that it has debilitated us across the board making it ever so difficult to rise above not just the hurdles he laid out in his “I Have a Dream” speech, but the hurdles we place in front of ourselves.
What got me thinking about this was when I saw several stories that posed the question “have we achieved Dr. Kings dream?” My first thought was “are these people serious?” Aside from falling away from the idea of the Negro that Dr. King so adamantly refers to us as, there is a laundry list of things going on right now as we speak that I feel are quite the opposite of Dr. Kings dream.
I see an America where we place our pride in entertainers and athletes. A place where the Lil Wayne’s, Kobe Bryant’s, Tyler Perry’s and Real Housewives of Atlanta hold more weight with the people than the Cornel West’s, the Tavis Smiley’s, Oprah Winfrey’s, and Barrack Obama’s. I see an America where the young Negro women are bitter over the lack of available Negro men because us males are falling behind in education and falling victim to our own shortcomings and stigmas. I see an America where many feel that welfare is an acceptable means of income even though we are fully capable of going out and earning money. Some gladly take food stamps and handouts from the government, and then spend what cash they do have on the latest technology or the newest pair of Air Jordan’s. I see an America where we place more value on the car we drive and how tight our pants are and how low we can hang them as opposed to placing that same value on our education, taking care of our families and finding a good job. I see all of this and more and I ask “is this what Dr. King had in mind?”
This is not just a problem for black people, this is a problem for all people. Exclusivity is out of the window as Dr. King’s speech pertained to all Americans whether they were mentioned in it or not. You cannot expect one ingredient in a pot of soup to cook down without the others also cooking down. We are in this together.
I listened to Dr King’s speech several more times that morning, holding my daughter, watching her eyes, not knowing what she is thinking, and I saw a glimmer of hope. I saw a piece of me that was not soiled by my own controversial past, riddled with the pains of addictions and shady behaviors. I saw a chance to show the world that I can do something right. Not perfectly, just right. I can start to be the change the world needs from my own home and take steps towards accomplishing Dr. King’s dream right here and now.
On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. my hope is that everyone, not just whites or blacks or browns or whomever….but everyone take a long hard listen at the message of this man’s speech. Listen to the words the man is saying and then honestly ask yourself with a straight face if this dream of his has become a reality. If after listening to this speech and reading what I’ve said here, you still have no answer to the question then I invite you to read the comments section of the video (or any comments section of any major news story dealing with race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. for that matter). Notice how many comments are under review or have been removed for content or how much ignorance and hatred there still is in our world and you should have no problem coming to this conclusion: Dr. King’s speech is still just a dream. We have made progress in some areas but have seriously derailed in others. Acknowledge that there is still much work to be done in the areas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that in order for Dr. King’s dream to become a reality he (along with many others who fought for his cause) need to be remembered not just today, but everyday.