Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” Speech: Still Relevant Today?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” Speech: Still Relevant Today?

Martin Luther King Jr.’s (MLK) “I Have a Dream” speech is arguably one of the most inspirational speeches of all time. Coming at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., the speech was full of truths regarding the deplorable lives of Blacks. The speech also carried hope and a vision that MLK hoped would become a reality for not only Blacks but everyone across the world. MLK envisioned a world devoid of racism, discrimination, and war; one that had everyone peacefully and fairly co-existing. At the time of its delivery, many ills plagued American society in relation to civil rights, equal opportunities, and discrimination. The truth, however, is that MLK’s “I Have a Dream” remains relevant today as it was at the time of its delivery.

MLK’s “I Have a Dream” came at the epitome of MLK’s career as a civil rights activist. At the time, many Blacks and people of color struggled with racial discrimination and segregation, unequal opportunities, and outright maltreatment of people of color. The speech touched on these ills as they were happening at the time. Sadly, however, the speech remains relevant today as it was in 1963. In his speech, MLK noted, “one hundred years later the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and chains of discrimination” (King, 1963). While there have been improvements to this end, with discrimination being covert, it still exists in American society today.

One of the areas that evidently show discrimination against Blacks is police brutality. Historically, police brutality has been a norm against the poor and minorities (Eguienta & Stefani, 2017). The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s marked the beginning of police brutality against Blacks and minorities. Police treatment of Blacks since then has not changed. Many Blacks agitating for different causes have met increasingly violent responses from the police force. Raw footage on police action against Blacks has always shown the use of excessive force by the police. In some of the instances, Blacks have lost lives as was the case of Botham Shem Jean and Stephon Clark, both of who were shot dead by police officers for unjustified reasons (Lee & Park, 2018).  So rampant and brutal is police brutality against Blacks that the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter trended on social media, birthing the Black Lives Matter Movement, which continues to be a reminder of police brutality against Blacks while advocating for a change of the same.

MLK further talked of racial discrimination and injustice that plague American society. Blacks continue to not only forfeit job opportunities in favor of their white counterparts but also get less pay for the same qualifications and work. The situation is especially worse for Black women who have fewer chances of scaling career heights due to racial discrimination in the workplace. Serena Williams has been a recipient of racial jibes in addition to earning more than $10 million less in endorsements than Maria Sharapova who ranks far lower than Serena in world tennis rankings (Bain, 2015). Only racial discrimination and racism can explain such disparities in the two women’s earnings.

MLK additionally talked of injustice as a part of American society at the time. Injustice remains a major concern for American society today. For instance, while the “stop-and-frisk” policy implemented in New York in 1964 that targeted Blacks ended in 2013, the bulk of those stopped and frisked remain Blacks. Eguienta and Stefani (2017) inform that 71 percent of all people stopped and frisked by Chicago Police were black. The number is especially disproportional given that Blacks account for only a third of the city’s population. May, Gyateng and Hough (2010) in a report on arrests posit that individuals from minority groups have seven times higher chances of being stopped and searched, and three times more likely to get arrests in comparison with their white counterparts. Perhaps worse is the differential treatment policy. According to Nunn (2002), differential treatment policy within the justice system means that charged with similar offenses Blacks are more likely to be detained pretrial and eventually imprisoned in comparison to their White counterparts.

In his speech, MLK envisioned a time when both blacks and white will be allowed to vote and that each would be judged “not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character” (King, 1963). King’s dream is relevant today having been achieved by Barack Obama, the first Black president. Obama’s ascent to the presidency is a true testament of change in American society. Yet Obama is not the lone case as America has seen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar elected as the first Muslim women to Congress, even as Stacey Abrams became the first African American woman to get a major party nomination for state governor.

Delivered in 1963 MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech was an inspiration to many and remains so to date. The truths that therein lie in the speech make it fresh and relevant today as they were at its delivery. America has made tremendous improvements since the delivery of the speech by becoming a more inclusive and accepting society evidenced by the many firsts for minority groups. However, many firsts also point to the slow pace of progress in the wider society. Media reports of discrimination, racial slurs, and police brutality are reminiscent of the times at the delivery of the speech. Such reports and realities make the speech relevant today as it was 56 years ago.

 

References

Bain, M. (2015). Only sexism and racism can explain why Serena Williams doesn’t earn more in endorsements. Quartz. Retrieved from https://qz.com/490859/only-sexism-and-racism-can-explain-why-serena-williams-doesnt-earn-more-in-endorsements/

Eguienta, O. & Stefani, A. (2017). Twenty-First Century Police Brutality against African Americans: The Case of Ferguson, Missouri, and the “Black Lives Matter” Movement. Université Toulouse II Jean Jaurès

King, M, L., Jr. (1963). I Have a Dream.

Lee, J., C. & Park, H. (2018). 15 Black lives ended in confrontations with police. 3 officers convicted. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/05/17/us/black-deaths-police.html

May, T., Gyateng, T., & Hough, M. (2010). Differential Treatment in the Youth Justice System. London: Equality and Human Rights Commission. Retrieved from https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/research_report_50_differential_treatment_in_the_youth_justice_system.pdf

Nunn, K. (2002). The child as other: Race and differential treatment in the juvenile justice system. UF Law Scholarship Repository, 679-714. Retrieved from http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1169&context=facultypub