The United States is celebrating the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today. The legacy of Dr. King is well rooted in American history and his personal legacy in undisputed. However, the message that Dr. King conveyed to African Americans and all Americans has long been mired in a struggle of racism and discrimination that has often manifested in many ugly ways that tarnish the memory of Dr. King’s legacy.
Dr. King led the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the sweeping legislation that ended racial discrimination based upon color, it banned segregation in public places and institutions and effectively emulated the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and empowered the United States Attorney General to initiate lawsuits against those that failed to implement the specifications of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it ultimately gave African Americans the same equality as all other Americans in society. As an instrument of social reform, it provided opportunity for African Americans to gain an initial foothold in American society to rebuke discrimination and finally provided the opportunity for African Americans to qualitatively develop a lifestyle on par with the rest of American society. Despite the legislation, it seems that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in some ways has grossly failed in its mission to seamlessly integrate African Americans and indeed all racial minorities into a seamless American society. It has rather exacerbated sentiments of racism in the United States during the last fifty-three years not necessarily because it was inadequate, but because it created a socio-political culture of racism that is defined by not the equality afforded to all Americans under the law, but the litmus test of race and color as the determination of the laws interpretation and application.
Since the tumultuous violence of the 1960’s of race against race the notion of racism in America has become more sublime. Physical violence has been replaced with passive manifestations of discrimination that are not always apparent to either African Americans or other Americans that are not of any color. The ideological message of peace and equality that was the core of Dr. Martin Luther King’s mission has become distorted and convoluted because his message and legacy has been misinterpreted and misunderstood by those that followed Dr. King and have attached a political ideology to his crusade for equality and human rights for all peoples, with African Americans included.
The United States elected the first African American as President of the United States when Barack Obama assumed the office. The election of Barack Obama on November 4th, 2008 was perhaps the most significant election in the nation’s history. Just forty-four years after the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United States elected an African American to the nation’s highest legislative office. Such an accomplishment in the wake of the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy should have signaled to the entire world that the struggles for equal equality and civil rights as an ongoing struggle in the United States was finally concluded. Unfortunately, the presidency of President Obama has not effectively embraced and maintained Dr. King’s teachings and anticipated harmony among all races of people; it has refueled and rekindled sentiments of racism in many aspects of the American way of life.
Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned that racial equality and harmony would provide equal opportunity for not just African Americans to transform their lives and professional opportunities and accomplishments. Sadly, the African American community throughout the United States is still segregated through high rates of violent crime among African Americans in metropolitan communities, economic poverty and a statistically disproportionate rate of drug abuse among the American population. It seems that poverty, violence and substance abuse is the new methodology of race discrimination against African Americans and there are no indications that the situation will change.
American’s of the 21st century are extremely distant from the pressing situation of violence and racism that plagued Dr. Martin Luther King’s social and political era. As a result, we are potentially capable of repeating the same mistakes in contemporary American society unless we reform popular attitudes that segregate and alienate not just African Americans, but all peoples in the United States that constitute the silent minority and are subjugated because of race, poverty, lack of education and other forms of social injustices. Perhaps an initial solution would be to abolish prefaces that identify Americans by ethnic ancestry and descent. We are a nation of Americans, without the need to preface our identities with a distinction of ethnicity. Such prefixes by their very nature divide us and rekindle sentiments of racial tensions and discrimination. Martin Luther King envisioned an America that treated all peoples with equality and above all dignity. As we commemorate Dr. King’s anniversary of his birth, the peoples of the United States need to reject prefixes of ethnic distinction and regard ourselves as AMERICANS!
Racism removes dignity from the human person. Dr. King’s life and activities were more than just a campaign for social and political equality for Americans of color. His life and message was a call to all peoples to promote peace, establish justice and restore unilateral equality to all Americans. On the day designated to remember Dr. Martin Luther King and his larger than life legacy, all Americans without an ethnic prefix of designation are best served if they advocate Dr. King’s vision for all Americans, equality for all and malice against none.
Collectively as an American society we need to overcome poverty, provide meaningful and productive employment for all peoples and enhance the overall quality of life for all Americans. When the American government, with the American people demand the accomplishment of these activities, only then will the message of Dr. King be fully realized and the stain of social racism as a collective stigma on our and Dr. King’s dream be consigned to the past.