On the 28th of August 1963 he stood on a podium, with the attention of 250,000 people turned to him at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. The location can be thought of as an allusion to its namesake – another man like himself – who on a similar day, 100 years ago poured his heart out, calling for freedom and equality for all. The allusion did not end there. He began his speech, with a less than subtle reference “Five score years ago…” (compare this with “Four score and seven years ago….”). Somewhere in between his speech he also said “I have a dream….“.
It is said that Martin Luther King Jr. (and his father, the Sr.) derived their names from the revolutionary Protestant reformer Martin Luther. While I can’t validate the fact, it is certainly self-testifying in a sense, regardless of the validity of the fact. Just as Martin Luther was the father of Christian reformation around the world, Martin Luther King Jr. was the champion of African Americans at a crucial time in American history, and in turn, world history.
Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865. You would think that’s where things stopped. But as we all know, it was only the beginning of a struggle that lasted for a 100 years. Only one in denial can admit that the shadow of this struggle is absent today. In fact, racism still lingers in a manner that’s disturbingly unhealthy for the American society – like a long lasting infection. In this context, MLK’s dreams are freshly unresolved. It is natural to think of his great speech as a message from the black people of America, to the rest of the world. However, placing the speech in a different context will make it relevant in many situations all around the world today, in a manner that is frightening, personally speaking. Consider this quote from the speech:
We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.”
Surely, most of you reading this would not have come across a “For Whites Only” sign. However, a close look at the recent “Burkini ban” in France and the public humiliation of Muslim women, terribly reflects the racial segregation in the United States in its tone. You do not need large billboards displaying, “This is what social injustice looks like” to know that things are not quite right. One only needs a fresh perspective, outside his or her personal categorisations of religion, colour, gender and race to see what social injustice looks like.
The evils of society are still at large. It does not look much like its deceased ancestor on the outside, but it is easy to see how in essence, they are all fruits of the same tree. The old adage of how history repeats itself is thus, a reference to how on the whole, human tendency defaults to vulgarities.
I wrote this short post today, not aiming to make any point in particular. It felt apt to write about a man and his words that I can relate to. It feels like a call directed to me, to stand up for what I believe in. And in this moment of personal peace, it feels great to stand on the shoulder of a giant, and to be invited to take up this humanitarian duty. I wouldn’t like to believe in the strange idea that destiny is, but I can’t help considering the possibility. Because on the same day, exactly 30 years after the speech was made, I was born. Happy birthday to me 🙂