MLK had an idea and a hope for America: when people are oppressed, peaceful advocacy must come swiftly if ever this nation would rid itself of injustice.
“We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers,” King said in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech.
Beginning in elementary school, Americans are taught to believe that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. fixed the nation’s problems concerning human equality.
But if this is really what the average American believes on the topic of human equality, then regrettably there is a tragic plethora of naivety that must be addressed. Human equality does not exist in American society today, but is plagued by the harms of racism, misogynistic sexism, homophobia, transphobia and elitist class discrimination, and it is these, not MLK’s message of freedom and equality, that ring in America.
In Tim Wise’s 2010 book “Color-Blind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equality,” he describes “color-blindness” as a means to disregard race when selecting particular individuals for certain activities. In theory, this sounds great, but Wise argues that color-blindness has evolved into ignoring racism altogether, making it invisible to the privileged.
Wise states, “Recent polling has found that most whites believe blacks are just as well off as they are when it comes to jobs and income. This, despite the fact that blacks are twice as likely as whites to be employed in low-wage jobs and twice as likely to be unemployed, in good times or bad.”
According to the FBI national hate crime statistics for 2012, 5,796 criminal incidents were reportedly driven by some form of prejudice involving race, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity/national origin or physical/mental disability. The report also states that 48.3 percent were race-based hate crimes, while 19.6 percent involved sexual orientation. Of the 5,331 identified hate crime offenders, 54.6 percent were white and 23.3 percent were black.
Furthermore, if violence as a result of racism does not exist today, then Trayvon Martin would not have been profiled based on his race and would not have been attacked and killed. Renisha McBride, who sought help after surviving a car accident, would not have been shot in the face and killed after knocking on the door of a person’s home.
In addition to racism, sexism is also a prevalent form of social injustice. Women face opposition for their rights whether it comes in the simplest of forms such as typing “women shouldn’t” in Google and letting the search bar finish your query, to being equally qualified for jobs but losing it to men. In fact, U.S. Census Bureau data from 2012 states that the number of males working full time and year-round with earnings increased by a significant 1 million between 2011 and 2012. The change for females was, according to the census, “not statistically significant.” Also, according to the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau, women continue to earn only 77 cents for every man’s dollar. Even the failing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009, which would have ensured equal pay for female employees, further communicates the divide of inequality.
When Chimamanda Adichie, a critically acclaimed writer and women’s rights activist spoke at a TED talked she titled ‘We should all be feminists,’ she said, “We teach females that in relationships, compromise is what women do. We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments, but for the attentions of men.”.
Yet another marginalized group suffering from injustice regardless of moral perceptions is the LGBTQ community.
Even in America there are queer individuals who are bullied and attacked because of their sexual orientation. Take Mark Carson for instance who was harassed with anti-gay slurs and then shot because of his sexual orientation back in May 2013. Huffington Post reports that was one of five LGBTQ hate crimes that occurred in New York City over the span of three weeks.
From Oakland, California, 18-year-old Sasha Fleischmann, was set on fire for being transgender back in November 2013. It is no wonder why people are so fearful to come out when prejudices as dangerous as these exist today.
I will not debate on whether this lifestyle is religiously sound or not, but I will say that this group has been unjustly treated and deserves tolerance.
If America is a country that celebrates diversity and liberty, then these groups of people must gain equal rights because they are just as human as those with privilege. However, this will not happen unless those with privilege take action and advocate on their behalf. It is not enough to say that you have a black friend, or that women are beautiful, or that you download Macklemore’s “Same Love”, or not grumble when you pay your taxes. Action is the key and advocacy and tolerance are the outlets by which change is possible. Otherwise, Martin Luther King, Jr. day will just be a day off school, and his message will eventually fade like a bell that no longer rings.