2012 Martin Luther King Day arrives on the cusp of another presidential election year. Was it only four years ago that some commentators hailed the start of the “post-racial” era in America with the election of Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States?
Political and cultural realities have right-sized that rhetoric. Ugly, vicious racist rants can be found throughout the internet, and quite often associated with the “comments” sections of stories about President Obama. But the not-so-latent strains of racism emerge in many parts of the popular discourse well beyond presidential politics. Consider the nasty comments associated with stories about corruption in D.C. Politics; the writers obviously skipped class on the day they taught about politics in, say, Chicago. Or, peer beneath the loftier parts of discussions about school reform and college access to discover less hopeful biases against the academic potential of entire sections of our population. Or, consider the mess called immigration reform — a nation that builds a wall across the southern border while leaving the north wide open to our neighbors there shouts out its prejudices with a loud amplifier.
(See John Kelly’s column in today’s Washington Post on this same topic.)
On this day of observance in the name of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s resolve to get real about the state of his dream of a truly color-blind society. I’m not suggesting a return to anger, division and hard lines all around — though they still exist in many places — but rather, let’s stop sweeping the issues under the rug of “post-racial” fiction.
This nation’s founding ideals of freedom, justice and equality for all were, from the very start, vivid dreams that often proved elusive in practice. The Founding Fathers, including the prominent slaveholders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, knew that the presence of slavery undermined their vision for a truly free nation, but they could not bring themselves to do the right thing — to create a nation truly based on freedom, justice and equality for all — because of their own economic interests and cultural blockades. Six decades later, the nation erupted in Civil War because of the inability of the Founders to confront the evil they knew would threaten the nation. Now, 150 years after the Civil War, almost 225 years after the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, 44 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this nation still struggles with those elusive dreams of freedom, justice and equality for all.
Whatever happens in this election year, whatever party you prefer, whomever you choose as your candidate, let’s resolve together to be advocates for those elusive dreams, to confront racism wherever we find it, to insist that this nation can and will be a place of freedom, justice and true equality for all.