I was having trouble working, yesterday. I kept reminding myself that the [organization-name] blog should have diverse content; I could blog about this, personally, another day. Not so: I cannot get past this burning sensation in my soul. My co-workers will have to forgive me for using office time to write something that undoubtedly must go on my personal website. This is a proto-type, getting things off of my chest and onto the internet for feedback.
Fifty years after the original March for Jobs, Justice, and Freedom, many United States’ citizens still do not understand Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Dream’, outlined in his historic address from the Lincoln memorial. Speeches are a limited medium and I think too few of us (I’ll include myself) have delved into background texts or a studied reflection outside of grade-school clichés: “They marched for equality!” Though King conjured language from the declaration of independence, that letter was intended as a rebuff to British politicians and not as the first-step in an inclusive, multi-faceted dream. King re-contextualized those words, making them what they ought to be to us in the 21st Century. At least, if The Dream were understood…
Let me tell you what The Dream is not; I am not the only person to see this. This Dream is not a society where no laws exist that mention race, banning the discussion of prejudice and privilege from our discourse. The Dream is not race’s version of “don’t ask don’t tell”; all the phenotypes remain. Racism, itself, is not mere prejudice but privilege that operates in conjunction with those prejudices, now sheltered by institutions that cloak themselves in legitimacy by leaving race out of their discourses. If the Law is in the service of the society, it should speak about race comprehensively and restoratively. Laws should protect people from within their groups and not as singular persons because when one person’s rights come into conflict with another, the person with male, white privilege has better odds. Debate me and you will see anecdotes and statistics. The group distinctions matter whether they are stated or not, so the solutions have to be explicit about race.
The dream is definitely not a society where every group competes for victimhood, reacting to the mere accusation of racism. Such transparent efforts to neutralize accountability are pathetic. Someone had photo-edited a Peanuts comic strip as if Franklin said “racism sucks” and Charlie replied “being accused of racism sucks too”. It was as if someone said “tornados suck” and someone said “oh yeah? Well vacuum sweepers suck too…”. Every day, people of color throughout this country experience prejudicial warps to their image, suggestions of incompetence or otherwise. I have no sympathy for white people who want immunity from being classified as racist, considering that they are usually the only group with enough privilege to leverage the full power of racism – though partial privileges definitely exist (I can delineate that another time).
Now, I have been called a “race-baiter” on social media and lectured on the “race-baiting industry” which is designed to sap self-hating white people of their money and funnel it into the pockets of wealthy black people. I think that is patently ridiculous but I am willing to take my own medicine: I am a race-baiter. Thanks for the label, uncle-cracker. I am baiting you to think about racism, how it still effects the society, and how it intersects with class, poverty, criminal justice, and other factors. According to the stereo-type, I am covering my personal insecurities with a layer of self-righteous and self-deprecating whiteness-hating in order to make other whites feel bad so I can feel important. Whites are constantly insisting that they renounced their racism but that is incorrect because privilege is conferred systemically. It cannot simply be denounced, it must be deconstructed. Prejudices happen because we are all imperfect human beings who make misassumptions but privilege, and therefore racism, continues because institutional deterrents to injustice are weakening. White people, we are racist by default because our mistaken prejudices combine with lingering privilege. Renounce prejudice constantly, the racism still remains inherent in privileges already conferred upon us. I think it is important to say that and I am damn important in this world, thanks.
Yet, the dream is not a society where white people berate each other in just the right ways. When The Dream is realized, white will become an archaic distinction and our cultural, regional, and ethnic perspectives will be given more sway. The Dream journey began, for me, the week I tried to write a paper about being white and discovered through my research that whiteness was not an ethnicity but an emptiness—a vacuum. Inside that choking vacuum, my European heritages either disappeared or transformed into token forms. The Dream was not to bring everyone into that emptiness, where everyone attempts to assimilate or pretends not to notice their differences. I am not fighting racism so that everyone can jam into my anemic bubble of privilege. With some self-deceit, I could pretend that Swedish and Italian people belong in the same category but that was not The Dream – that is the antithesis of The Dream. When body-characteristics fail, privilege finds social, religious, and behavioral characteristics—I am sick of that. I fight racism because I want a society composed of all categories, where I can interact with people of differing ‘ways’ and be improved on my journey. This is inconceivable to non-race-baiters, of course, because it would mean relinquishing the only heritage left for ‘white’ ethnicities: the convenience of unquestioned ethnocentrism and the satisfaction of being normal. It means facing the vacuum and no longer knowing who you are. It means becoming a multi-culturalist: one who finds meaning in others to compose the self.
Today, I am embracing the awkwardness of being a weird, multi-culturalist, race-baiting malcontent. I refuse to be content at this early stage. The Dream, after all, has not yet reached the point where it can be about equality. When the dream is about equality, it will mean elements of planned economy will no longer be vilified by politicians acting for the interests of corporations. It works like birth-control: by fooling us into feeling equal with assuaging rhetoric, those with the resources keep us from a state where we might actually under-cut their avarice. The dream is getting further and further away from equality, rolling backward again toward what it was about in the first place: recognition. There is not equality. Discrimination remains and it is a tool of even more ubiquitous evils. We should fight back for The Dream, nonviolently, while conditions remain favorable to it.
Fifty years later, it is time to renew The Dream and not to commemorate a victory yet to be won.