I, Too, Sing America
by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.
This Monday, we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King. The following Tuesday we will inaugurate Barack Obama as our first African American President. Does this mean that King’s grand dream of tolerance in the US and progress for AFrican Americans has been achieved. In some ways no and in some ways yes.
45 years ago, in his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech Martin Luther King talked about a check given to African Americans by the founders of this country that had bounced, a check that said ‘all men were created equal.’ That was a promissory note to black people that one day we would have our rights, a check that came back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ 45 years later has the check cleared yet?
Today many people would say the same thing that MLK said in 63, that, ‘the negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity’ In King’s time the average black family income was 56% of the average white family income, today it 63%. Today African Americans still suffer the sting of poverty, the gap has only been closed by 7% in the past 5 years. In terms of financial equality, we have a long way to go before we realize King’s dream. King would go on about economic prosperity saying:
‘We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.’
While there are many prosperous black suburbs and many African Americans have managed to move into white and racially mixed suburbs, the overwhelming majority of blacks have to deal with the same prospects of upward mobility that King spoke about in 63.
King also spoke about the Negro languishing in the corners of society, an exile in their own land. Given the large amount of African Americans who still live in poverty the worst part of American cities, a reality that was made all the more clearer during hurricane Katrina, in some way many African Americans are still an exile in their own land.
King spoke out against a issue that is still a serious problem:
‘We can never be satisfied as Long as the Negro is the victim of police brutality.’
So there is no way on earth he’d be satisfied today, with Rodney King, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, and many others being brutality beaten or killed by the police.
Still several parts of King’s dream have become a reality. No longer are we robbed of our dignity by ‘white only signs’ and when we are tired with the ‘fatigue of travel’ we can stay at any of the hotels and motels across the highways of America.
Barack Obama has personified King’s dream in the political sphere. King famously said:
‘We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’
Judging by the high African American voter turnout in the south and in cities like New York, this part of King’s dream is a shining reality. In this way, Obama has taken King’s mantel and inspired blacks to achieve one part, a very significant part of America’s dream.
King spoke of ‘sons of slaves and the sons of slave owners meeting at the table of brotherhood.’ This is another testament to Obama’s victory. The results in many southern states have showed that blacks and whites have joined at the table of brotherhood in their support of Obama. In other avenues such as sports and entertainment, African Americans, have been at the table with their white brothers.
The blacks lucky enough to go to college or get jobs in corporate America or join the entertainment industry have joined the table of brotherhood, while the poor in the ghettoes are treated like abandoned step children.
Conservatives have taken King’s statement about his children living in a nation where his children, ‘live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’ to attack affirmative action.
What they fail to recognize, is that day has not come because of the legacy of racism and its continued presence, and affirmative action is the only chance many blacks have at ‘sitting at the table of brotherhood.’ As racial profiling and racial discrimination in general are both still a harsh reality, we are still judged by the color of our skin. While millions of white people voted for Barack Obama because of the content of his character, millions did not because of the color of his skin.
Barack Obama has learned a lot from King’s speech. King put his dream in the context of the broader American dream, referencing the constitution, the bill of rights and America the Beautiful. Just as king used the abolition of slavery as a reference point, Obama used King’s speech and the civil rights movement as a reference point. 1963 was not an end but a new beginning for the civil rights movement, and so is 08.
As King incorporated white people into his general movement, Obama has done it doubly so. King said:
‘Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.’
Obama’s honest direct approach to attracting working class white voters and inclusion of them into his movement is a testament to King’s dream. The sons and daughters of the white people who marched with King and even the sons and daughters of those who protested against him have joined in Obama movement and mantel of change.
If Obama is to take his place as the heir to the civil rights movement, he must make it clear that the movement is not a black movement, but a movement for all people seeking peace and justice.
I am a strong believer of not being cynical and chasing dreams. While we have not achieved King’s dream yet, Obama and the people that have supported him have put us on the right course to do so. We must continue to fight to make sure that King’s dream is realized. Just like King looked over the mountaintop and saw that he ‘might not get here with us,’ we must fight with the same vision. This is a multi-generational struggle, we may never live in a tolerant, peaceful utopia, every time someone fights for that vision, we make the world a better place.
Although racism will remain a reality for our lives we can fight for progress and equality. Because of Obama, 66% of black parents believe that their children can be President, and while most of them never will, that dream will keep them going, make them keep fighting and make them believe in themselves.
The Dream is a continuing vision. It is not just a dream for black people but for all people who want to live in a society with peace, justice and equality. A dream that was started by Chrispus Attucks, a dream set in stone in the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, a dream that many before King, like WEB DuBois, John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and Langston Hughes fought for before him and one that many others fought after his death. Obama not only is keeping that dream alive but he is inspiring millions more to do the same.
When I watched all the racist McCain hate rally footage, I knew that that wasn’t white America but a loud disgruntled minority who had their hatred directed at Obama by Republican strategists and pundits. The majority of Americans, white people old and young, latinos and African Americans have rallied around Obama like the nation rallied against racism and bigotry under King. Bigotry and racism are not over but they are on the decline. I felt a strong burst of pride when I saw white school children holding bake sales for Obama and when I saw old white ladies with Obama buttons.
A torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, not a black generation or a white generation but a diverse new generation that represents what America really is.
God Bless America
Here’s a Poem My Mom Told Me
Rosa Sat So Martin Could March
Martin Marched So Barack Could Run
Barack Ran So We All Could Fly
Watch Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech
Watch Barack Obama’s Victory Speech