The dream and the reality

| Forum Editor

I just got back from the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Graham Chapel and was deeply moved by professor Bob Hansman’s remarks about the true meaning of King’s life. For those who missed it, Professor Hansman reminded us that King was not a mere dreamer and proponent of conciliation, but a fierce and often critical advocate of true justice.

We have come a long way since King’s assassination in 1968. We enacted the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. We integrated our schools. We elected a black president.

Yet self-congratulatory platitudes about how far we have come strike me as profoundly out of touch. As much as our world has changed and improved since 1968, there is still far too much inequality and injustice in our world to justify a collective pat on the back.

Wash. U. students witnessed a taste of this injustice this fall when students were denied access to Mothers Bar and responded admirably, yet the truth is that such discrimination is fairly trivial when compared to the larger gap between Wash. U. students and the broader world.

This week a federal court in California has begun hearing a challenge to Prop 8, the state referendum that stripped same-sex couples of the right to marry. The case is an important reminder that we still have forms of legal second-class citizenship in our country.

This week’s news has also brought reminders of political injustice abroad, in the form of Google’s decision to stop censoring its Chinese site. We may have won the fight for African-American voting rights in the U.S., but in China and elsewhere, political freedoms are still severely curtailed.

Perhaps most tragic are the recent events in Haiti, where even before the earthquake many were living in desperate poverty. As long as 1 percent of the world’s population holds 40 percent of the world’s wealth, and more than a billion people live on less than $1 a day, we cannot claim that the fight for equality is anywhere near complete.

Finally, inequality is also right here in our own backyard. It is present in the difference between the manicured lawns of the Wash. U. bubble and the streets that are mere blocks away. It is felt in the difference between those attending an elite university and those who will never graduate from high school.

The history of the civil rights movement is full of stories of heroism and tragedy, but the one I have always found most compelling is that of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, the three young civil rights activists who were murdered in 1964 for their efforts to register black voters in Mississippi. Most striking, Goodman and Schwerner were white, Northern college students with no personal connection to the civil rights movement who still cared enough to die for what they felt was right. Our collective efforts to improve the world from within the Wash. U. bubble seem pretty meager by comparison.

Of all King’s many wise words, my favorite is the following quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that wholeheartedly, but I also know this—it will not bend itself. If we truly want to honor King’s legacy, then we still have a lot of work to do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593555791 Jerome Bauer

    “Of all King’s many wise words, my favorite is the following quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that wholeheartedly, but I also know this—it will not bend itself. If we truly want to honor King’s legacy, then we still have a lot of work to do.”

    Amen to that!

  • Dirk Doebler

    Well, your idea that the world’s wealthy is dominated by a select few while billions live in poverty is not about fairness. That has nothing to do with equality. MLK himself said that there would always be poor people and that we essentially need to accept that. What is unfair is taking money from the wealthy and giving it to the poor. For instance, say there are 2 islands, each with one inhabitant. One island has extremely fertile land and can grow a plethora of food and has a great cove for hunting fish allowing its sole inhabitant to collect as much as he pleases and grow as much as he pleases so long as he puts in the work. Now, say, the other island is desolate, with little good land to grow food and has very few fish around it. Is there anything unfair about the one having more than the other? Let’s also say and earthquake causes the land to rise between the 2 islands allowing both inhabitants to walk from one island to the other. Is it unfair that one has person has more than the other? Obviously not because neither has physically harmed or hurt or infringed upon the other’s abilities. So, it’s incorrect to say that just because few people have a lot of wealth while FAR MORE have little money it’s unfair. If you have such a problem with people having so much money then you should donate ALL your money above what can pay basic rent and provide you with enough food to all those poorer than you in an effort to be “fair.”