As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington many people are reflecting on the current state of the civil rights movement and how far we as a country have advanced on the issue of race since 1963. There is no doubt in my mind that we have made significant progress in regards to race and opportunities especially for educated African-Americans but many in the African-American community are still struggling with the negative effects of poverty, crime, bad choices and lack of education or skills training. My frustration with discussing race in the current political climate is that we never seem to have a real conversation about the topic. Instead people just go to their respective corners and speak only from their rigid political perspectives. When race is raised online some responses from the far right tend to be: We elected Obama so we can't be racist, Obama was supposed have made race better, Obama made racism worse (Trayvon Martin case/Professor Gates case), he hates white people or he wants everyone on welfare and dependent or he wasn't born in America. The far left says nothing has changed in regards to race and discrimination runs rampant, Obama has wanted to talk about race but the Republications have made his life impossible or he's not really black because his mother was white and he raised by his white grandparents in Hawaii so his experience is not that of a real black man, he hasn't experienced racism because he went to Harvard. Of course this is a simplification of some of the views of both sides but common if you look at user generated remarks on the web.
President Obama does not represent civil rights or race relations in this country, but is a product of those movements, both good and bad. Generally, whites see his election as meaning racism is coming to an end and because of this we need to move on from this tired conversation. Blacks perceive the treatment of the President to be harsh and disrespectful and proof of how far we still have to go in race relations. While blacks believe he has been given the opportunity, they see his behavior as being judged more harshly than his white counterparts. The thoughts on President Obama by both communities very much mirrors our views on race and especially with African-Americans, show what it means to be black in America. But using President Obama to reflect on black experience is like using Bill Gates as an example of white experience. Yes, he's just like all of us, except that he is smarter, taller, better looking and richer. He is the best amongst us. Dealing with racism isn't just about whether a black man can become president, but whether the average black man can rise into the middle class.
When we refuse to talk about race in a significant manner we do a disservice to ourselves as a country. These limited conversations don't allow us to have a real discussion about the destruction that racism does to the soul of our country. Racism goes against the fundamental values that we as a society say that we hold dear. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The chance to be who you want to be regardless of your race or gender. The belief that if you work hard, sacrifice and do the right thing, you too can have a chance at your own American Dream. If life is fair for everyone than it makes us stronger as a country. Racism is about people being afraid that if someone else has more than they somehow have less. This country however is about us all being our best and succeeding. You are only as strong as the weakest among you. That is why we can't build a strong country without a strong middle class that is comprised of all races. Who will do the work? Who will buy your products? If no matter what you did, your life and the life of your children wouldn't be better, why would you bother to improve your own lot in this world? Some people in the black community don't believe that their life will be better. They feel as if the deck is stacked against them. They don't care that the life of the black middle class has gotten better when their life feels as if it's gotten worse. The idea that the harder you worked the luckier you got and the more likely you were to make it into the middle class. This is not true for many people in this country today regardless of race, but is worse for the black community. The challenge we as a community have to deal with is fixing the systems that work against us but also learning to address the issues that come from our own behavior and poor choices. There are many good parents within the black community, many more than we hear about in the news media. There are also still too many of us who are not doing the right thing for our children. Too many of us are discouraged and don't strive to get the basic education and skills we need to have a decent quality of life. Too many of us have given up and stopped dreaming.
There is no question in my mind that significant changes have occurred in this country in regards to race relations and the opportunities that are now available to people of color. However, this acknowledgement does not mean that there are still not issues of inequality and injustice that must be addressed and remedied. We are spending too much time discussing the symptoms and the extreme views, but to truly resolve this issue in a meaningful way we must talk about how we get to the solutions.
Dr. King spoke about the solutions of fairness, opportunity and equality. We have come so far but for many of our citizens the ideals of justice, liberty and the pursuit of the American Dream remain an elusive dream.