As we approach on August 28th the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, some people have stated we need to have a national conversation about race. I agree and I would like to do that, hopefully without hitting on too many tired clichés.
Despite the fact that we have a Black President, the emphasis on race in this society seems not to have taken a vacation. In fact, it appears to have been exacerbated. Recently many people have criticized President Obama for not doing enough about the disintegrating black family structure. We wrote last November before the election that was the single biggest failure of his first term, and the most significant reason he did not deserve reelection. But this is just the tip of the race iceberg.
The Supreme Court decided that every Southern state no longer met the criteria it did 50 years ago for being racist and anti-Black in its voting procedures. Instead of people applauding the fact that progress had been made, certain elements of our society denounced the decision as obviously premature. In a recent speech, presumptive Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated, “Anyone that says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention.” Ms. Clinton must not be paying attention.
She seems to be ignorant of the fact that the percentage of Blacks voting has steadily risen since 1996. That means, in every presidential election over the last five elections, Blacks voter participation has increased. This culminated in 2012 with a higher percentage of Blacks voting than Whites. What we should really be focused on is the pathetic percentage of Asian voters.
The significant increase in Black turnout apparently is not good enough. Analysts have said Democrats are worried that without Barack Obama on the ticket that the percentage of Black turnout will fall. That is why they believe people like Clinton are out stirring up the issue. So let us get this straight, if there is not a Black on the ticket, Blacks will stop showing up to determine the next President and that is the fault of a racist voting system?
And this is because states across the country have decided it is time to finally protect the most important aspect of our democracy – the sanctity of our election process. Thirty states have updated procedures or reversed procedures that were harming the integrity of the voter rolls. The most prevalent requirement being that someone shows up to a poll with a government issued picture ID. Some people think Blacks and other minorities are too stupid or lazy to obtain what functioning people know is a basic of life in a modern society. Despite their claims that voter ID laws are racially motivated, in the three states with the most restrictive rules to date – Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee -- Blacks turned out in higher percentages than Whites in the last election. Maybe Blacks are not as stupid or lazy as they are accused of being.
So what does it take for Blacks to be accepted as equal? Apparently, it is not going to happen in our lifetimes. The most famous Black woman on the planet (that includes the first lady) recently told of her own plight as an oppressed minority. Oprah Winfrey walked into a store (mind you it was not in racially-tinged America) where someone on the planet did not immediately recognize the multibillionaire. Despite Oprah’s overwhelming success and adoring fans of all colors and ethnic backgrounds, she felt that a poor store clerk in Switzerland was symptomatic of racism she experiences. In interviews she expressed how she would go to meetings and people make her feel like she has no business being there (either as a Black or a woman, for that matter). Give us a break.
Certainly, this society experienced a racial past. That past did not end with the civil war, Brown vs. Board of Education, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 or The Voter’s Right Act of 1965. Certainly, people need to be reminded of the injustices that were done to Blacks in the past. But if you watch movies like 42, the recent movie about Jackie Robinson, the stupid people are the racists not the Blacks.
As a Jew, I fully endorse communicating about these injustices so that the young and newly-arrived Americans remember what happened years ago and should never happen again. I was on the Holocaust Memorial Council, which operates a museum in Washington D.C. dedicated to perpetuating the knowledge of a crime against the Jewish people. I often tell people my favorite thing to do in our nation’s capital is to sit outside the museum and watch non-Jews enter. With the knowledge they will gain inside, we have hope that a Holocaust will never happen again. But I do not live my life worried that everyone is trying to slight me and is against me because I am a Jew.
Fifty years after Dr. King stated “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,” we are living that dream. We have a President, Attorney General and National Security Adviser who are all Black. We have had two Black Secretaries of State. We are not oblivious to the fact that there are racists in this country. We have over 310 million people in this country. There are always going to be bigots and anti-Semites and misogynists. Try as we might we cannot eradicate stupidity. At some point it is time to move on. At least those who act as if we are still living in the past can begin to focus on positive improvements for Black Americans.
On the 50th anniversary of the great leader’s most famous speech, a great many of us live by his most famous quote from the speech. We suggest that it is time for those who cannot get beyond the past to heed his words and join us.
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