Can The Dream Survive?
In Martin Luther King’s masterful speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 he described in several ways his dream of racial harmony. His quote, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred” gave inspiration to people of good will, both black and white, that a new day of civility and racial harmony is possible.
He elaborated on this thought by saying, “The marvelous new militancy that has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.
Dr. King’s commitment to his dream of racial harmony, rather than the promotion of distrust of all white people, is unmistakable. His commitment to leading us toward something rather than against something could not be clearer. Psychologists have proven that instructing people what to do, rather than what not to do, is a far more effective way to get results. A sign that says, “Please walk on the sidewalk” will protect the grass far better than a sign that says, “Don’t walk on the grass.”
Our concentration on Anti-racism rather than Pro-racial harmony cannot help but lead to less harmony and more racial tension. Dr. King’s dream, “That one day the sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” can come true only if we refuse to drink from the “cup of bitterness and hatred” and acknowledge that we have a common destiny.
The dream that “One day in Alabama…little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as brothers and sisters” will remain elusive as long as our children are taught that all white people are racists by virtue of having a power and privilege that is denied all black people. The dream cannot survive the strategy of seeking out evil, even where it may not exist, and condemning those who may not harbor it. This can be likened to the reality of the anti-communist movement of the 1950’s.
If the anti-communist movement proved anything, it was that a concentrated effort to find evil in others will always find evil, even if imaginary. Such a movement also produces distrust, suspicion and serious divisions among people. Social harmony and civil relationships under these circumstances are difficult to impossible to maintain.
The anti-communist movement of the fifties was seen by many as an effort on the part of some ambitious politicians, especially Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, to advance their careers through the exploitation of public fears and suspicions. False accusations and labels led to the destruction of reputations and careers before some of our leaders in government and media came forward and denounced this evil movement.
Our current anti-racism efforts are seen in a similar light with some individuals gaining celebrity status and making significant financial gains through the exploitation of public fears and suspicions. Still, others remain silent for fear of the destructive force of unfounded accusations and labels while the dream of racial harmony remains elusive.
Those who share Dr. King’s dream of seeing black and white children holding hands as brothers and sisters and taking a place at the “Table of Brotherhood” find themselves being shouted down by the shrill rhetoric of race profiteers and militant activists. This, along with well-intentioned but misguided efforts of some Christian churches, and the willing cooperation of some politicians and media outlets, put Dr. King’s dream into the distant future; if it’s ever to be attained.
Civil discussions among people of good will, who will come together with open minds and a sincere commitment to honest consideration to the opinions of others, can lead to a revival of the dream. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that anything else will. The choice is clear, racial harmony or racial conflict.