By Dawud Walid, The Detroit News
We are quickly approaching the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic, “I have a dream” speech that represents where most Americans would like to see our nation.
At the time of his speech Dr. King was beloved by masses of people, yet hated by many. His message of racial equality was not only met with resistance from southern state governments but was unwelcome by many whites in the north – including in Michigan. We have made significant progress since then, yet we have a ways to go.
The preamble of the U.S. Constitution speaks of our nation attempting to form “a more perfect union” in recognition that America in the era of the Founding Fathers was far from perfect. In fact, many of the Founders — including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – owned slaves, advocated cleansing of natives (or “beasts of prey” as Washington referred to them) and did not respect the right of women to vote.
The goal of many minorities continues to be an America where the societal manifestation of the beautiful words in the Declaration of Independence is realized, not how those words were understood by the document’s framers. We live in a country where women of color make 64 cents to the dollar of white men. We also have the highest prison population on earth — largely due to the failed War on Drugs, which disproportionately incarcerates black men despite the fact that white men use and sell drugs at the same rate as their population demographics.
These and other issues are part of the legacy of racism in America that is both structural and institutional. Societal inequities are not haphazard occurrences.
In order to realize the lofty dream in Dr. King’s speech, we have to be real with each other and not live under myths. This means having honest discussions about our national history in order to see how we can facilitate righting wrongs without collectively blaming those who live in the present.
I hope that during this historic anniversary we can have candid, kind-hearted discussions to help move our country towards realizing that more perfect union. That’s what attendees of the March on Washington prayed for 50 years ago.