So I made my way to the memorial honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pausing to offer a prayer at the feet of the greatest American. And not just any president, but Lincoln, Kennedy, or Roosevelt; the leaders of business, culture, science, and athletics.
The promise and the falsehood, the dreams and the nightmares of America were all addressed by King, and his words continue to speak to the torn heart of America to this day.
He made the United States answer for its lack of progress toward its own egalitarian ideals, warned that its bombing of Vietnam would have repercussions at home, climbed a mountain and caught a glimpse of the land of promise, and on the day he was killed was preparing a sermon in which he would ask whether or not the United States would be damned to eternal punishment.
During his lifetime, Martin Luther King Jr. was not as much admired as he is now. They put him in jail. They (the FBI) followed his movements. He had the canines brought in on him. Not many people liked him. Seventy-five percent of Americans disapproved of King in a poll taken shortly before his death.
The love for him did not extend even among other black Americans. Many of the younger people of his audience were frustrated with his message of peace and love. The king himself began to wonder whether perhaps they were correct.
His reputation has been smoothed over and polished in the years since then. An advocate for tranquilly steps in for the controversial reverend. But both claims held water.
We have Entered a Post-American Era
White liberals frequently use his famous speech in which he argued that people should be evaluated on the basis of their actions and principles rather than their skin tone in an effort to convince people of colour (especially black people) to abandon racial politics.
Neither of them picked up on the fact that he was addressing them personally. His point was that white people shouldn’t attribute motives to the fact that they are white. King, being the ardent supporter that he was, advocated for a wonderful and permanent lack of colour vision.
He held to the idea of a global Christian community but never lost sight of the fight for black equality. King believed that “the black freedom struggle required a cross to carry,” not a “flag to wave,” as black philosopher Cornel West points out.
That Barack Obama’s election as the first black president represented the realisation of King’s dream was a claim that West disputed. At Obama‘s inauguration, the Bible owned by King was used.
But West was concerned that the black elite would “become Obama-like flag wavers rather than Martin King-like cross bearers” in their festivities. The West figured that once dead, King would mourn Wall Street and American imperialism for capturing Obama.
The bar that King set for American democracy is one that it has yet to clear. Troubled, worn-out, racially strife-torn America. After 9/11, we could no longer claim that this was the American century.
There are several ways in which a post-American era has arrived. China is the world’s largest growth engine, and its economy will overtake the United States’ as the largest in the near future.
The United States has the world’s most powerful military, but it has spent decades mired in foreign conflicts, has tens of thousands of troops stationed across the world, is overextended, and ended its single longest war by abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban.
The Issue of Race Plays a Major Role
But the United States, not China or the wealthy European nations, will probably decide the world’s fate. Democracy must pass the test of America if it is to survive in its current, weakened state.
Liberal triumphalism after the Cold War does not resolve the problems facing the United States in the twenty-first century. Daily, the whole concept of America is challenged. In this country, people of all colours, creeds, religions, and political persuasions live side by side and make do with what they can figure out.
Subways, grocery stores, sports fields, houses of worship, workplaces, classrooms, and any other area where Americans come into close proximity to one another serve as arenas for American negotiations.
It’s not always easy to relax, and suspicions run high. Racial issues are front and centre in the United States, a country built on the foundations of genocide and slavery and characterised by growing diversity and, by some counts, a decreasing majority white population.
The other day, I was riding the subway when a man accidentally brushed up against a black man, who then yelled at the other passenger to get his arse out of his face. Another passenger was hit in the face with spittle by another man, and I watched it happen.
I noticed white people shifting uneasily in their chairs as a black woman spoke passionately about 500 years of slavery. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. The feeling of anger is really real. Of course it would be!
However, I also witnessed acts of generosity and civility from strangers. People around me seemed completely apathetic toward one another.As an Aboriginal person, I found it empowering to live in a mostly black area.
Being a Doctor in the Wake of Martin Luther King
When I leave Australia, I feel like I can finally let go of our country’s heavy history. Where I work and live, whiteness is still too pervasive. Australian society may be diverse, yet white supremacy persists in all spheres of society, including the arts, politics, and the economy.
White supremacy persists. It’s the same in the United States, except the difference in coloration is much more noticeable there. Living in a community where black people are prominent in all economic and cultural spheres is refreshing.
The white individuals I see don’t seem to have an entitlement mentality; rather, they act like they belong here and watch what they say and do. That’s excellent to hear, by the way.
Even if the wealth disparity in the United States is enormous and the American dream is disappearing, many people are still motivated to work hard and overcome adversity in order to provide a better life for their children.
A cab driver told me that he originally did not speak English and was from the Dominican Republic. He and his wife, both of whom have held down side gigs, have managed to raise their children and purchase a home.
He’s planning on retiring in the near future and moving to Florida. It was a lovely winter day, he added, perfect for attending church. Amen. I thanked the driver and got out of the vehicle feeling lucky to have met him. Every person I’ve met seems to be constantly trying to escape Doctor King’s shadow.
The Washington, DC, memorial dedicated to him is a sombre site. A bowed head and the title “King” are carved into a stone monument. It pales in comparison to the monumentality of Lincoln’s monument. Without a doubt, Lincoln is a giant of a man.
He presided over a nation ripped apart by conflict. He won a decisive victory and issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves. However, King’s ancestry includes enslavement. He’s a transcontinental transplant.
Native Americans, African Americans, and immigrants are all part of that America, and they all reflect the country in their own ways.
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