March on Washington + 50 Years

August 26, 2013

It’s hard not to choke up listening to clips from the “I Have a Dream” speech. So much promise, so much death during the 60s, and I cannot help but focus on the fact that the many 1960s martyrs had children, my age, and never got to see their kids grow up! As a product of a pretty stable two-parent household, I cannot imagine the challenges these families faced in turbulent times!
Emotions aside, I’m fascinated by how easily anyone can argue for a nearly full or almost empty cup. On the full side? Exhibit A is President Barack Obama. Elected, and re-elected—in a not really very close election—despite a poor economy and many other problems! Yes, there are people among us who cannot deal with his being not like us. Some will ‘fess up, but that is the small, uninteresting bunch. I’m interested in how firmly so many deny any racism when their views reflect a level of discomfort with the president’s background. (“Don’t call me a racist, but can you prove the man was born in Hawaii,” for example, when no one questions where another candidate was born. Can you spell T-e-d C-r-u-z?) Racism is far less acceptable than it was 50 years ago. Not everywhere and not always, for sure, but the times have changed!
People of color vote! Barriers exist, and the fact that minorities vote provides no excuse for not worrying about the barriers. But minorities show up at polling places and they vote, and in many jurisdictions the effort to prevent minority voting has spurred greater voter turnout!
Generally, people can eat where they want, sleep where they want, travel as they choose, etc. Yes, there was a story about a restaurant asking a group of African Americans to leave because they made the other guests uncomfortable (Wild Wings Cafe), but that was news!!!
Empty? How about the vast number of black and Hispanic men in New York City (and other big cities) who are stopped and frisked for the crime of being … black or Hispanic? Imprisonment statistics—Prison Race Stats—reflect a race-biased justice system. And death penalty stats are really awful (Death Penalty Stats)!
Blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed in 2013, just as they were in 1963. Average black households have a net worth equal to about 10% of white households (Net Worth by Race).
Etc.! Being a person of color in these United States presents everyday challenges. For all of our “melting pot” noise, our culture does not like “different,” and it never has. Don’t believe me? Read up on the Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Hispanic immigrant experiences.
I suspect how people see the progress over the past 50 years depends, significantly, on their vantage point. I’ve never been stopped and frisked and probably never will be. If I was black, especially in a big city where people walk and use public transportation, I would almost surely have a different experience. (And yes, that would be the case even if I was an attorney!) On the other hand, people of color have many friends who, while they have not walked in the same shoes, take pride in the successes of the past 50 years, even as they do not always appreciate how far the arc must still bend before we live in a truly just society!
So, as we celebrate a milestone in our journey as a nation and a culture, I hope we can all:  take pride in the successes; know that much work remains to be done (and get to work); benefit from  appreciating the fact that our journeys always differ from those of our brothers and sisters.

Leave a Reply