The Lost Dream

A Person Reflection on a Dream Deferred

I am not like them--
For they are not like me,
We are different
We are not the same.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day always brings up memories of of the past. For some, like my parents who were teenagers during Dr. King's era, the past is over 60 years ago.  For others, like the parents of Michael Brown, the past is only yesterday. Every year, on this day, the past I am taken to is high school--2002 through 2006. I call it The Time of the Lost Dream. During this period of my life, I just wanted to graduate and leave. Perhaps I thought the life of a black girl was different outside of a small town in South Carolina, or perhaps I was just tired of worrying about a situation that seemed unchangeable. Regardless of my reasoning, I had zero motivation to address or deal with the people around me.

My memories of high school are littered with subtle racism. It takes a great deal of effort for me to remember the good, and on days like today its nearly impossible. I remember white peers wanting to do away with Black History Month because "[they felt] bad" and it made "[them] sad to hear that [their] ancestors had done such things." The fact that the deepest we ever dove into the topic was to say there were white and colored only signs on everything, must have escaped them; I'm sure if we'd discussed tarring and feathering, lynching, the fact that a white man cut off my great uncle's ear for speaking to a white woman, or the hate crimes of today, they would have had to bring in psychologists for counseling. I remember my American English teacher telling my white classmates not to worry that they didn't understand Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin, citing "cultural" differences when they begged her not to fail them on an assignment. The facts that it was one of three books we could choose to read individually, that they could have stopped reading and chosen another book when they realized they didn't understand the first, nor that they would only be required to read three books by and/or about non-white people from kindergarten all the way through graduation, clearly did not influence my teacher's point of view. I don't think I'll ever get over the fact that they were always shown mercy for not understanding black culture, but I was alway expected to understand theirs. That's what high school taught me: white culture is American culture, black culture is something else, and to succeed, you need know American culture.

Where are the black authors
The inventors, the chefs, the teachers?
There were civil rights leaders
There were civil rights survivors...

The fall I started college, I went to see Stomp the Yard with my white roommate. She thought the movie was the most awesome thing she'd ever seen and wanted to know why Greek life at our school wasn't like that. I came away from the movie wondering why I hadn't chosen to go to an HBCU (historically black college or university), a feeling waxed and wanned until it came back stronger than ever upon viewing The Great Debaters. I wanted a teacher to tell me to read W.E.B. DuBois or Frederick Douglass as an assignment. I was sick of hearing that Langston Hughes was the only black man to write something worth reading. I was tired of Black History consisting of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King—or rather Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. What about everything else he said? What about everyone else? While the legacy of these people is great, I felt that what was being taught was that we, as a race, did not exist outside of black issues. We were either slaves fighting for freedom, or freed slaves fighting for rights. Lost in translation were all the people leading successful lives despite their lack of rights.

In church—a black Baptist church, that is—we learned about George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod-Bethune, Madam CJ Walker, and other influential black people before and during the civil rights movement, but it even in my own community, Black History is treated as though it ended with the death of Dr. King. 

In the aftermath of wars fought
When the dust settles,
Clouds are swept away by wind
And the survivors go on.

Every year, not just on MLK Day, I wonder what would have happened had he not been assassinated. Would we have been closer to his dream? Would I look back on high school the way I do? There are many blacks succeeding around the country, from the highly publicized entertainers (although sometimes we'd like to pretend they don't exist), to the unknown CEOs. There are black Greek organizations doing community service as I write these words, yet the news only wants to cover them if they're on trial for hazing. There are black men in college and mentoring young children, but the only people they want to show are athletes and thugs. We had a channel of our own, where we could have highlighted the good that we do, where we could have told our history, promoted the reading of black literature, and reminded the world that we didn't just disappear when Dr. King died; but Bob Johnson sold it to VIACOM! After President Obama was elected, white conservatives (and even a few liberals) were saying they needed to "take back the country." I think we need to take back our history and teach it right. The fight did not die with Dr. King. We did not die with Dr. King. The dream did not die with Dr. King.

In a box they may try to place us
By labels they try to define,
And though I reject this oppression
My history will not be washed away.

When we can learn about the good (and bad) in every culture freely, when people are not stepping on glass so as not to disturb the "peace" and all cultures can see similarities in their differences, we will be able to see each other instead of colors. Our differences make us individuals, our similarities make us human and when we can finally see our similarities, our differences will not drive us apart. I once gave up on Dr. King's dream, because I gave up on people. Everyday I meet people of all colors and creeds that remind me there are people working for the dream and everyday I meet people of all colors and creeds that remind me exactly why I gave up on people in the first place. But if Dr. King had given up on us all, the world would not be the world we live in today; it may not be perfect, but its progress and even if one step further is all I can contribute while I'm alive, I'll do all that I can to make that step.  

Differences don't have to drive us apart
And similarities don't have to bond
The respect that I am and that you are
Is all the air we need to breathe.

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