But the words ring true today. We need the same message. This time in color. Delivered by someone alive today in just as powerful a manor. This speech itself is history. So this time we need a new speech with the same message.
It was meant to bring about change. To some degree, it works. But racism still exists and there is still a denial that racism exists. There is a lot less racism now than there was back then. But there are many people still experiencing it. Maybe in fewer places than back then, but it still happens.
From the speech:
One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.Black people are more likely to be poor all these years later. They are given less opportunities. Sometimes, because of a criminal record. They are more likely to serve jail time then the white criminals too:
African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)
In 2002, blacks constituted more than 80% of the people sentenced under the federal crack cocaine laws and served substantially more time in prison for drug offenses than did whites, despite that fact that more than 2/3 of crack cocaine users in the U.S. are white or Hispanic
Of course the best way to stay out of jail is to not do something illegal. But that's not so easy when your job pays minimum wage and it's not enough to live off of. One thing that could make a big difference in lowering crime rates is a living wage. Making the minimum wage enough to afford the cost of living. Theft and illegal sales would go down. It wouldn't be eliminated but it would go down. Because a lot of people turn to those things when very desperate.
Racism will never completely go away. A racist parent teaches their kids to be racist. Sometimes, that kid decides when they are older that their parent(s) were wrong. Usually, they carry that prejudice with them. In some cases it might not be as strong as their parent(s) had, but it's still there.
Some will always instinctively be fearful or intimidated by a black man. Because that's how they are raised. A black man pointing a gun at you is not more dangerous then a white man pointing a gun at you. They are equally dangerous. Just like a really good black man is just as good as a really good white man.
It's not about color. It's about personality. It's about choices. It's about your environment and the choices you are forced to make. For me, it's about Aquan.
He was in the 4th grade in 2008 and a kid I tutored every week. My town is in a nice area but not far from a few towns that can be dangerous. He couldn't trick or treat that year because they found a body in that area. His older brother had been killed. He had a hard working single mother and a couple of other siblings.
He sucked his thumb. My job as a teacher was to tell him to stop when it started. I did it, but it was hard for me to do. Because he needed safety, security, and comfort. We all need something comforting to make it through stressful times. He only sucked his thumb when he was struggling.
To this day, I fear he has been killed or is in jail and/or a gang. That is the fate for too many growing up like him. He was such a sweet kid. I can only pray for him and those like him. Perhaps one way we can weaken racism is to ask the racists "why?"
Why are you racist?
Why are you refusing to admit you are racist?
Why do you treat black people differently?
Why don't you think ALL children deserve a chance to succeed?
Why do you not trust someone because of their skin color without any other justifiable reason?