Based on news articles and television reports, President Barack Obama’s speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington was received with less enthusiasm than might have been expected for our first African-American president. Members of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s family appeared on CNN openly critical of his speech. From my point of view, our president’s remarks were a spot-on reflection of Dr. King’s dream.
For decades now we have seen our youngest school children ignoring race in their daily interpersonal relations while, in our greater society, the drumbeat continues that racism is alive and well. The implications are obvious — little children don’t simply grow out of this color-blindness. They learn over time that self-segregation by both white and black people is a way of life in our country.
What continues to divide us? In my college days (’60s and early ’70s) my contemporaries and I were convinced the racial divide would disappear within a decade. We truly believed Dr. King’s message could become reality. It clearly has not. Is it because of racism? Or is it something more complicated than that?
Particularly around this time of year, we hear, “Progress has been made, but much is left to do.” What, precisely, can we do? Can we erase the history that perpetuates the distrust between the black and white races? Can we force people to establish social relationships they don’t want to establish? What, exactly?
I think the best we can do is each try to live what Dr. King preached and little children know in their hearts. If we are ever to truly become a “United” States, it must be a natural consequence of our experiences. It cannot be forced.
retired budget director
S t. Francisville