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A Disappointed Dreamer

Today is Martin Luther King Day, and while I had started off the morning intent on writing a post venting my anger over a bunch of self-loathing special snowflakes, an act of divine intervention you might say called me away from that to go and tend to something else. In that time, I had a really heart-felt conversation with someone I respect about a topic I greatly enjoy, and came away feeling a lot better afterwards, such that when I returned to write my original post, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I say it's divine intervention if only because of the bizarrely perfect timing, though the person to whom I was speaking would almost certainly disagree.

But that's ok, because part of what this day is supposed to remind us of are all the ways in which people are the same and how we can come together, despite our differences, to make the world a better place. I'm not really one for religious rituals, and I have my own reservations about the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a broader context; but at least for today, I'm choosing to focus on the positive instead of the negative.

Towards that end, it might behoove us all to participate in the annual ritual of once again hearing those famous words from his "I Have a Dream" speech and reflect upon them:

In listening to the words, I am moved to tears and literally shaking, for there is a profoundly deep-seated and timeless truth in that message. A message not just of liberation, but unification between former foes and warring tribes. That it isn't sufficient just to raise one group up to the level of the other, but that we must do so in a way that does not destroy or divide.

Martin Luther King's speech has become known as a message of Civil Rights, when in reality it should be viewed more properly as a message of human rights. That in his time, blacks were not asking for special privileges, but the basic common decency afforded to everyone. Rights not only denied, but actively opposed in many instances; and so it is a great measure of his character that Martin Luther King was able to rise above that, to channel the will of a higher power, and resist the temptation for revenge that I think many would have agreed would be justified. He took the higher path and admonished the world do the same. Not to oppose the white race, as others had done, but to join with them as equals and stand together, in good times and bad, because he understood what many today have forgotten - that the interests of all are people are tied to one another.

My, how far we have fallen since then.

A hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, King noted that freedom still remained elusive for the black community. Another fifty years since then and things have gotten better, but we're still not there. There is still racial injustice and bigotry against blacks; but just as he feared and foretold, there is also an impatience that has led to violent backlash and a forgetting that the goal was unity, not an inversion of the institutions of structural oppression, yet we are beginning to see that now.

Where once the hate was very clear and strong in one direction, it is now a multilateral confrontation in an all out intersectional war of identity politics.

Rather than cancel out, as one might expect, these dissonant souls seem only to create further volatility in their clash. More insanity in their interaction. More disconnect and division in their lack of peaceful, civilized disagreement. The dream of coming together has not yet been achieved.

Martin Luther King spoke of racial unity, not just within a race, but between races, as members of the greater human race. He taught that #ItsOkToBeHuman. He sought to #HealTheDivide.

For this, he was murdered, and Malcolm X too.

They were murdered for rejecting tribalism even in a time when they had ever reason not to. They were murdered in cowardly fashion for transcending the normal modes of thinking. They died as martyrs and their dream died with them.

I wake up today a disappointed dreamer. I wake up today fifty years later to find a species of human that has been slow to change, and obstinate in its refusal to transcend itself. I was not alive at the time he made that speech and so I strain my empathy and powers of abstraction to will myself to understand what living in that era was like. That if there is something I hear that doesn't seem like it'd fit our time, that it doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't true back then.

Most of you reading this probably weren't alive then either and so we must put ourselves in the shoes of others to see how bad things were then, and comparatively how good they are now, and how we've deviated from that path and the dark future to which many of us are heading as a result. If we wish to avoid such a fate, we must take stock of this trajectory and adjust accordingly.

As King said, we have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time!

And we are running out of time.


"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Though he was speaking of his own children, many have since come to extrapolate from this quote a deeper meaning and a broader application, that all people should be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. That is the individualist mindset. That before you are part of any subset of human beings, you are first a human being and yourself.

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who merely mouth the words, and those who actually live the principles behind the words they speak.

In this regard, as per the lessons of my many great teachers, I have always given more credence to actions than words. Mere words mean nothing if they are not reflected in our actions. I seek to unify and heal, and to act on my principles, applying them consistently to all, regardless of who they are, while others only claim to, even as they divide and destroy.

There are those who place great emphasis on superficial qualities. These are people not living the dream, but creating a nightmare. A nightmare the rest of us have to wake up to.

Indeed, I am a disappointed dreamer.

When I hear about the racists down in Charlottesville, a fire and fury burns within my heart. When I hear about the tearing down of statues and the erasure of history, I fear the Lady Justice shall not be far behind them. When I hear that institutions of higher learning seek to shield their students from the mental fortitude of opposition, I clench my fist in rage. When I hear of riots in far-off cities, an anger grows swells within my soul. When I hear that violence is done in Justice's name, the bottomless wells of my Piscean compassion begin to run dry.

Indeed, I am a disappointed dreamer.

When those who've done no wrong as asked, nay forced, by those who've not been wronged to turn and make amends, I can no longer be impartial. When we fight amongst ourselves as a den of vipers gathers around to infect us with their poison, I am forced to turn away. When those who cry out about division raise a hammer and further drive the wedge, I press my fingers to my ears and block the ringing cries a hypocrisy.

Indeed, I am a disappointed dreamer.

When the actions of the dead are invoked to strip the living of their human rights, then liberty has died and freedom no longer rings.

Indeed, I am a disappointed dreamer.

When a country that fought tyranny and abolished slavery turns around and throws people in prison for having a plant on their person, I tremble with thoughts of rebellion. When those I supported themselves continue to support this system in stark contrast to their own principles, I hasten to voice my defection. When I watch half the country turn on a man who calls for moderation despite his long history as a champion for liberty, I shudder with thoughts of revulsion.

Indeed, I am a disappointed dreamer.

Do we honor the words with our actions or are we simply a bunch of mouth breathers mimicking a man who fought and died a martyr so that freedom and racial justice and human rights could live on? Do we judge people as individuals based on the content of their character or as members of a tribe whose war paint resembles colors different from our own?

It's time we wake up and start making the dream a reality. To realize that pain and hurt exist on all sides, not just our own. That my rights and your rights as human beings deserve respect and protection as individuals, but that with that also comes a measure of responsibility. That we can't just get everything we want, but we must want for something better. To give up equality of outcome in lieu of real, honest equality of opportunity. To not let the pendulum slide back or slip too far forward, but to hold it in the center.

Maybe then, we'll live in peace together as Dr. King envisioned. Until then, life is but a dream.

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