The state of the Dream

Today seems like a good day to reflect upon Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.

Parts of the speech seem quaint and antiquated. Referring to “the Negro,” as King does several times in the speech, just sounds weird. The grainy black-and-white video also is telling.

But the dream? What about the dream?

Two years ago we inaugurated our first black president of the United States. Only a few years earlier I would have thought such a scene highly unlikely in my lifetime. And we do show our ugly racist tendencies, still.

But something has happened in the 48 years since that speech. Some parts of that dream have come true.

I do see white boys and white girls playing with with black boys and black girls. My kids have friends of various races and ethnicities, engaging them with a natural ease that did not exist in my segregated childhood. And when the Columbus (Ohio) schools began forced busing, nobody liked it, from what I saw (I went to parochial schools that had a total of four black kids out of nearly 300 in my class). Black kids and white kids alike seemed to resent the busing, being thrown in together. Busing was an imperfect solution to a major social ill.

Imperfect as it was, it has had some good effect. Eventually, we have learned to coexist most of the time. Racism is no longer tolerated in polite company. Those who continue to harbor racist views must whisper them conspiratorially.

Two of my son’s best friends are black – not because of some great plan, but just because.

I remember driving along a suburban road a few years ago, following a school bus. At its next stop, two kids got out. One black, one white. No fanfare, no media circus. Just two kids going home from school, hanging out. And it was so perfectly normal that it didn’t gather any attention, except that its utter normalcy struck me. MLK’s dream had become reality, at least in this little microcosm.

The dream is far from completely realized. Martin Luther King’s holiday is still often regarded as a “black” holiday. Barack Obama is too often regarded as a “black” president. MLK boulevards and streets and avenues tend to be in downtrodden urban areas, seeming to occupy second-class status.

Racism still simmers beneath a polite facade in public.

It’s sad that people expend that much energy on something so utterly useless – hatred.

But bit by bit, the dream is slowly becoming reality.

Maybe, just maybe, racial injustice will someday be a thing of a long-forgotten past.

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