Dream far from realized
46,000 people marched on the capital of South Carolina Monday to protest the state’s continued use of the Confederate flag. The protesters claim the flag is a racist emblem, a reminder of the South’s history of slavery, just as the swastika is a reminder of the Holocaust. Supporters of the state’s use of the Confederate flag argue that it represents not the Confederacy’s commitment to slavery, but represents other southern ideals and is a means of honoring those killed during the Civil War in service of the Confederacy.
The protesters planned their demonstration to coincide with other national celebrations of the life and work of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. They planned the demonstration to be the same type of non-violent public protest that King himself was an advocate of, and they succeeded in grabbing the attention of the national media in a manner which King himself would have been proud. On a day intended to honor the memory of King, these 46,000 people honored that memory in the best way possible. They continued his work, in an attempt to bring the nation closer to the land King dreamed might someday exist.
As these protesters – and millions of others who took part in King Day celebrations – would tell you, the dream is still far from realized.
Just last year, three men in Texas were on trial for the killing of James Byrd Jr., a man they were convicted of murdering for the simple and monstrous reason that he was black. They chained him to the back of a pick-up truck and drug him along a dirt road until one of his arms was separated from his body, and until he was decapitated. The incident was a terrible reminder of the lynchings and other acts of violence perpetrated against black Americans since they were freed by President Lincoln nearly 150 years ago. At a point in American history when racial harmony should be a reality, the incident also served as a wake-up call to anyone who believed the race war had ended.
While strides have been made since the 1960s, they have come infrequently. According to the American Correctional Association 1997 Directory: Juvenile and Adult, black Americans made up 45 percent of the national prison population in 1996, compared to 34 percent caucasian population. Nationally, blacks represent about 15 percent of the country’s population. Logic dictates that a group of people who represent only 15 percent of the national population cannot, by sheer numbers alone, commit 45 percent of the crime in that nation.
There are many arguments that can be made about why this disparity exists, far too many for me to deal with here. But with numbers like these, it is impossible for anyone to claim that King’s dream of black and whites walking together in unity has come true.
In an time when seemingly everyone takes offense with something others believe in, it’s hard to blame a symbol for the hatred and violence perpetrated against black Americans. The Confederate flag itself has not killed anyone, maimed anyone, hanged anyone. But if having a symbol so linked with this nation’s history of slavery encourages even one person to believe that hate is alright, that intolerance and racism are condonable, then it must go.
It takes individuals to enact change, and we currently have too few individuals like Martin Luther King Jr. to enact the changes he dreamt might come.
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