I’ll be honest. I’m almost embarrassed to use the picture. As relevant as this picture is today, it feels as though I’m taking part in the whitewashing of Dr. King’s dream. And by whitewashing, I really mean coopting his dream for my own purposes so that they suit my own understanding of history and my society.

In 2004…back when I was more political…I fell in love with Sen. John Edwards (as did one of his campaign volunteers, apparently). He gave a speech that resonated with me to my core. It’s called the Two Americas speech and is one of the most significant political speeches of our time, even if it has been lost in the moment. It’s less about political unity (like then-Senator Obama) and more about the difference between the haves and have-nots. It’s a speech about class equality.

This morning, while reading through the typical trite tributes to Dr. King, I read one that made me stop. Dr. Lee Davenport wrote an article about Dr. King’s legacy with regards to fair housing. How only his untimely death paved the way for the 1968 Fair Housing laws. What I didn’t know, is that Dr. King previously spoke about two Americas…in a speech commonly referred to as The Other America.

…there are literally two Americas. Every city in our country has this kind of dualism, this schizophrenia, split at so many parts, and so every city ends up being two cities rather than one.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A speech on race and the fundamental wrong of racism is timely. Up until today, I had never heard about this speech. And now, today, I am reading it over and over again and am mesmerized. What makes me sad/upset/frustrated is that this speech is so seldom mentioned. It’s easier for us (Caucasians) to hold up his I Have a Dream as a paradigm because it’s aspirational. There isn’t anything for us to do beyond hope and dream.

Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with dreaming. Aspiration is important. But it isn’t challenging. If we learned nothing else after the 2020 Summer, we learned that it isn’t enough not to be racist. That pacifism is no longer sufficient. We must be activists. All of us. And that’s something that Dr. King challenges us to do in this speech. He turns eyes squarely at our pacifism and tells us that we can’t just be “color-blind.”

And we’ve got to see that this [racism] still exists in American society. And until it is removed, there will be people walking the streets of life and living in their humble dwellings feeling that they are nobody, feeling that they have no dignity and feeling that they are not respected. The first thing that must be on the agenda of our nation is to get rid of racism.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

We must be, as we learned last summer, anti-racist.

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