Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. In that speech he not only encapsulated the tragic history and continuing plight of black people in America, he also spoke hopefully, and eloquently, of his dream that people of all races will someday live in unity.
Fifty years ago Wednesday, that great leader, unequaled since then, spoke to a massive audience of black and white people who shared his dream.
Addressing black people first, he said, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
Then he said, “I have a dream that one day … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”I’m sure he meant adults too, but they would rather point fingers and cast stones than hold hands.
He ended his speech with that rousing request, “Let freedom ring!” And he dreamed about everyone’s freedom ringing on “…that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing … free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we are free at last!”
But MLK was not perfect, and he knew it. Like all men, he had faults. He also knew that the dream could only become a reality if everyone learns to bear one another’s faults with patience, hope and a sense of humor. Expecting everyone to live up to our idea of what is perfect every time they open their mouth simply does not jive with reality.
Recently, not quite in keeping with the spirit of King’s dream, Mary Ratliff, president of the Missouri chapter of the NAACP, demanded that the Secret Service, and the Dept. of Justice, investigate a rodeo clown for wearing a mask of President Obama and for being rude. She called for sensitivity training for clowns, and said, “A hate crime occurs when you use a person’s face to depict who they are and make degrading comments.”
She is wrong. It is not a crime of any kind to depict who people are and make negative comments about them. The freedom to do so is a main premise of a democratic society. She should review the law regarding hate crimes, and stop making up her own laws.
Arbitrarily accusing others of a hate crime, or of being racist, does not advance Martin Luther King’s dream. Supporting our imperfect brothers and sisters does.
The NAACP versus the rodeo clown is a perfect example of the lack of common sense in race relations today, and it needs to change. The clown’s performance was tacky, and he is banned from rodeo for life. He was guilty only of being rude, but that is not a hate crime. Miss Ratliff overreacted. Her performance was no better than the clown’s.
Sending in the FBI is probably not the best way to be sensitive and embrace tolerance and diversity. Besides, the FBI cannot arrest a clown for being a clown, and for being free and having his own ideas. It must be Ratliff’s first rodeo.
Clowns have been mocking kings and presidents by wearing comical masks and mimicking them for thousands of years. If masks, and being rude, are suddenly hate crimes, then all we are doing is regressing backward to a time when a court jester could lose his head by mocking the king too much, even if everything the jester said was true.
Reverend King was a Christian minister. He knew that Christian principles, like forgiveness, humility and love, are necessary precisely because nobody’s perfect. If everyone was perfect there would be no need, as he also said 50 years ago today, “…to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
There is no one on the national scene Wednesday like Martin Luther King, so his dream is still only that, a dream. The Christian principles he tried to live by and teach have all but been abandoned by his successors, and replaced with sinners eager to cast the first stone.
— Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.