The Dream Preferred: MLK's Iconic Speech Was Also About Jobs -- We're Still Dealing With It | KCET
The Dream Preferred: MLK's Iconic Speech Was Also About Jobs -- We're Still Dealing With It
Today, the popular reading of King, a post-racial one that crosses political lines, is that he championed equality for all and not just for blacks. Not untrue, but a deliberate downplaying of the truth. King advocated for good jobs for all, of course -- and education and housing, and all the rest -- but his advocacy of black folks and their particular crisis was fundamental to that advocacy. He saw hundreds of years of systemic and legal racial oppression as a template for all oppression, and he warned that if we did not sufficiently redress the core wrongs of slavery and Jim Crow and its effects, the whole nation would suffer. We would lose our standing in the world, he warned, our own iconic status as a beacon of fairness and democracy because we would continue to rot from the inside.
He was more prophetic than he knew.
Many people would argue that America's current decline has more to do with shifting economic realities like globalization than it has to do with race. Indeed, we are loath to put race at the center of anything anymore, except when it feels convenient, titillating, or safely distanced from our daily lives. But globalization and outsourcing and the swoon of labor unions are merely extensions of the idea that workers are expendable and exploitable, people not to be respected but devalued; blacks have lived that reality longer than anybody else.
They're still living it, it's just that more and more folks are living it with them in an age in which the put-upon 99 percent is fast becoming the norm. King warned against this, too; by the end of his life he was voicing the very unpopular opinion that if America was going to stay strong, to keep its credentials of morality and humanity -- really, to earn them in the first place -- it needed nothing less than wealth redistribution. That socialistic view went over like a lead balloon in 1968. I don't need to tell you how it's going over now.
If he were alive today, what would King say about the landscape? He's already said it with words that are far more provocative, but far less heeded, than the user-friendly phrase "I have a dream." And then he might pay Lola and the Black Workers Center a visit and lend his support. The last support he did lend was to the black sanitation workers in Memphis who were asking for equal pay, but more than that, for equal regard. They were asking to be thought of as men, and as human beings actively participating in the American project rather than always being its collateral damage. That was, and is, unfinished business. It is time again to get to work.
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