Where are we 50 years after the ‘Dream’?

James Farmer

Fifty years ago yesterday, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech in Washington, D.C. Since that memorable and important speech, have we really become a nation where people are judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character?

We have the stop-and-frisk policy in New York City, where minorities are disproportionally stopped and randomly searched over white people. Currently, black men in their early thirties are twice as likely to have a prison record than white men, and serve 10 percent longer sentences than their white counterparts. Many politicians have made tasteless racial statements, such as Newt Gingrich’s statement that “Spanish is the language of the ghetto.”

However, the United States elected and then re-elected Barack Obama, a man with a Kenyan father. And even though there are only six African-American CEOs, the number has steadily been growing throughout the 2000s after the first one reached the position in 1999. In total there are 22 racial minority CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, the highest number in history. The Democratic caucus of the House of Representatives became the first caucus in either chamber to not have a majority of white men, but rather a plurality.

But are the steps to equality really the work of cultural progress, or are they artificial? Just look at the racial tensions brought about by Paula Deen’s choice of words and Georgia State’s White Student Union, would these events be an issue in MLK’s “Dream?” We don’t have answers to these questions.

Truly, it is a hard road to ignore the color of someone’s skin and content of his or her ethnic background when determining character even today. Would Dr. King be proud of the progress we have made, or embarrassed that this is only as far as we got? The fact that this is still a question shows the dream is not quite a reality.