It has been fifty years since the original March on Washington happened, when hundreds of thousands of people from across the United States came together in their nation’s great capital, to unite in a call for change. I joined them half a century later to continue the fight on racial inequality.
At the foot of the great emancipator, Obama delivered a speech that was designed not to compete with MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’, but to emphasise the problem of racial inequality. The tone was filled with angst, almost need, for something to change within society, citing the ‘long hard path’. Rhetoric that connected with the enthusiastic but polite crowd that stretched back the entire length of the reflecting pool.
The U.S. may have a black president, a black Supreme Court Chief Justice and many black multi-millionaires, but there is still an unmistakable difference in equality and continued discrimination that is over-shadowing the land of the free.
This was only highlighted at the ‘Let Freedom Ring’ event with the hundreds of ad hoc stalls set up along the pedestrian paths, all manned by African Americans’ selling anything from bottles of water to commemorative shirts. Everyone is well aware that a young African American man is more likely to go to jail than to go to college, a disturbing fact- one that will not change unless the poor in society are helped and the dangerous gang-culture drastically challenged and restricted.
There does not seem to be any drive or direction to tackle the predominantly African American poverty stricken areas. With children in ghetto’s going to under-funded schools and their parents barely able to feed them, never mind pay for their healthcare, there is no wonder why many impressionable youngsters turn to the powerful drug rings that control their neighborhood and take advantage of them through manipulation of trust. This happens across the country, from the city of Chicago to the streets of San Diego.
A rather scary realisation was that just over two miles away from Capitol Hill and where I was renting an apartment, there was a ‘no-go’ gang area, where I was told to stay well clear of.
Walking around any street in America it is easy to see the disparities in wealth and condition by the colour of people’s skin. It is the Mexican’s and African Americans’ who stand behind the counters of Dunkin Donuts. Step into any office and you’ll see the irony of the disproportionate majority of white-collar jobs resting on the shoulders of Caucasians, a reason behind the larger percentage of healthcare coverage they have. This is not to say everyone is disadvantaged but surely everyone should have equal opportunities in this day and age.
Momentum has fallen away from this movement, but the ‘Let Freedom Ring’ event may just be the spark to get it back on track, to simply raise awareness of the inequalities can do an awful lot. The discrimination is obviously deeply seeded in the country and change will continue to be a ‘hard long road’. I’m sure if MLK and his other influential peers were to look at the statistics of today, he would be incredibly disappointed. The difference in income between black and white households has not significantly narrowed in that time.
Upon reflection Obama’s message was clear. This long battle with inequalities and racial difference will continue to be a battle in the next fifty years, but it needs to be a movement stemming from all the people of America. Once it is acknowledged and dealt with by all, then the change can happen. It will not be easy, but one day, perhaps Martin Luther King’s dream will become a reality.