Green Room

The Joyous Daybreak

posted at 5:14 pm on January 18, 2010 by

When the Founding Fathers penned the Declaration of Independence, they wrote the first chapter in a mighty saga that continues through the present day, and whose final pages will not be written until the world is bereft of a single man or woman who calls themselves an American. We have been blessed across the centuries with hands bold and steady enough to write new pages in the gospel of liberty. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of those authors.

When he spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, Dr. King used a voice that rang from the Liberty Bell in the east, and rolled across the mountains of the west, to echo through every corner of the Earth. All of the great American speeches are like that. They do not rest comfortably within our borders. Like Washington at the First Inaugural, Lincoln at Gettysburg, or Reagan at the Berlin Wall, King’s words were spoken from the American heart, charged with universal truth that made them the property of all mankind. He was a pioneer, the first to describe one of the most challenging aspects of liberty: no one in a nation is truly free, until no one is oppressed.

Why are we still cursed with racism, when its greatest enemy spoke with an eloquence its vicious little servants can never hope to match? We commemorate King’s life every year on this day. We share his speeches with our children. How can so many people accept such a glorious cup, and pass it along without drinking their fill?

Racial hatred endures because it is useful, and we are practical creatures who don’t set aside useful tools easily. Racism enforces a conformity of thought that is precious to every brand of despotism. Tyrants love to burden their subjects with an enemy they only need to point at. The cellar of every squalid little dictatorship includes bottles full of machetes and bullets, labeled with the names of racial enemies, to be uncorked whenever the populace dwells too long on the misery of their lives. The American brand of useful racism is considerably watered down, but people do occasionally die from overdoses.

Racism endures because it provides a dark mirror, in whose depths can be seen a cheap illusion of righteousness. Nothing brings the rush of moral superiority more quickly than a casual accusation of racism. The notion that particular racial groups, including whites, are especially liable to indulge in ethnic hatred is, itself, a deeply racist notion. We all carry that taint in our blood. No race of man can claim it has never looked upon others with prejudice. Lazy accusations of racism are really a different flavor of the same poison as vile assertions of racial superiority. Both are an easy way to declare other people beneath contempt, so their ideas can be discarded as rubbish without a second thought. Like any narcotic, racism is seductive to lazy minds… and powerfully addictive, with violent withdrawal symptoms.

Ugly prejudice lurks in the deep shadows around the understandable human tendency to seek the comfort in the familiar. Our Constitution enshrines the right of free people to choose who they will associate with. People of every color have used that choice to build “communities” that might better be described as enclaves. No just law can ever bring the walls of those enclaves down. They must be dismantled brick by brick, one friendship at a time. It won’t be quick, or easy. We shouldn’t hate ourselves for that. The Bible carried by Martin Luther King taught him that “love is patient, and love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Does that sound like a fair description of racial relations in America, three decades after King fell to a murderer’s bullet? Perhaps not… but we are closer than we were, on the day that shot rang out, tiny against the mighty echoes of the voice it silenced.

Racism endures because we’ve thrown away the most effective weapons against it. We built a system of government that strangles the free enterprise which brings people together, united by their ambitions. We scowl at the healthy laughter that builds fellowship, timid at the thought of giving offense. We haven’t put enough effort into maintaining our common language, the mortar of a peaceful and open society. The most impoverished among us indulge a subculture that violently dismisses the pursuit of excellence as racial treason. Meanwhile, the ruling elite have constructed a system that stands Dr. King’s dream on its head: we bring our children into a world where the color of their skin unlocks a million pages of legislation, while attempts to judge the content of their character are a felony offense.

From his vantage point on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. beheld a “joyous daybreak” in the sky above his country, and the free world it leads. He saw clearly. The clouds have parted slowly, but inexorably, every day since then. No man or woman of character can listen to the “I Have a Dream” speech without feeling a part of their soul rise to meet the challenge that waits on the other side of those clouds.

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Racial hatred endures because it is useful…

Useful to its practitioners who, unlike King, blaspheme the title reverend, like Sharpton and Wright.

I do not believe in racial equality. I do not believe in gender equality. I believe in a far greater American ideal: equality of opportunity for all individuals.

publiuspen on January 18, 2010 at 6:12 PM

Well said.

I was in Memphis the night the shot rang out. I was in “the hood” when the bars, shops and homes all burst out into the streets, anger and frustration swelling in a spasm of angst, bottles, bricks, rocks, and shirts all tossed into the mayhem of rebellion against the news that was croaking from the radios and televisions.

There was a fear shared by all who knew the words by heart, “I have a dream”. The fear was mostly that the movement may be crushed. That your Biblical references above would lose traction and not regain their momentum. That a calm that had begun to settle would be replaced with more frustration. That the bad old days would return.

Calm did return. To this day there have been few leaders of this great United States of America that are able to inspire the Dream. The neophytes have shown themselves to be mostly charlatans of peace, love, hope and charity. Great voices remain to be heard. They are amongst us. It’s as if arising to meet the greatness of Dr. King is something to be admired and hoped for, but that no individual dares to dream is within themselves. “We’re not worthy” in the words of Wayne and Garth.

We all have it within. Perhaps we assert it with the same passion, only quietly amongst our closest allies, not knowing if we would be regarded as racially permitted to speak the words, share the heart. Equate this with heresy if you will.

I am white. Sorta. A mutt by any anthropological standard. Yet I know Dr. King’s truth to be a shared vision to this day. By many. Claiming a racial bias for his truth, excluding others who all fall under the umbrella words, is inane. And a complete disrespect for his life’s work as well as your own. My grandma was ordered to the back of the bus because of a perception of her racial inferiority. I never was. Dr. King helped see to that.

Robert17 on January 18, 2010 at 8:20 PM

Another great one by The Doctor. It should be read in every public school in the country.

percysunshine on January 19, 2010 at 7:51 AM

Oh say, can you see
By the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed
At the twilight’s last gleaming?

Dr. King’s joyous daybreak, Frances Key’s early dawn, there’s a truth inherent in this idea – only in a free country can all people be free.

I’ve spent too much time in doctors’ offices this winter, reading whatever they’ve got on hand – one article in The Economist in particular pointed out that unemployment among whites is at 10% but among blacks is at 16%.

I’m not taking 10% as accurate, but I think the difference between is probably about right – those on the lowest rung get hit hardest as small businesses close and large businesses shut unprofitable locations – usually serving poorer areas.

Dr. King pointed the way – we need the will to follow it.


acat on January 19, 2010 at 1:18 PM