What happened to the dream?
The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and of the Rev. Martin Luther King's memorable “I have a dream” speech, is a time for reflections — some inspiring, and some painful and ominous.
At the core of Dr. King's speech was his dream of a world in which people would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by “the content of their character.”
Judging individuals by their individual character is at the opposite pole from judging how groups are statistically represented among employees, college students or political figures. Yet many — if not most — of those who celebrate the “I have a dream” speech today promote the directly opposite approach of group preferences, especially those based on skin color.
What was historic about that speech was not only what was said but how powerfully its message resonated among Americans of that time, across the spectrum of race, ideology and politics. To say that that was a hopeful time would be an understatement. To say that many of those hopes have since been disappointed would also be an understatement.
There has been much documented racial progress since 1963. But there has also been much retrogression, of which the disintegration of the black family has been central.
Many hopes were disappointed because those were unrealistic hopes to begin with. Economic and other disparities between groups have been common for centuries, in countries around the world — and many of those disparities have been larger than the disparities between blacks and whites in America.
Even when those who lagged behind have advanced, they have not always caught up, even after centuries, because others were advancing at the same time. But when blacks did not catch up with whites in America, within a matter of decades, that was treated as strange or even a sinister sign of covert racism.
Civil rights were necessary, but far from sufficient. Education and job skills are crucial, and the government cannot give you these things. All it can do is make them available. Race hustlers who blame all lags on the racism of others are among the obstacles to taking the fullest advantage of education and other opportunities.
When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was pending in Congress, my hope was that it would pass undiluted, not because I thought it would be a panacea but because “the bitter anticlimax that is sure to follow may provoke some real thought in quarters where slogans and labels hold sway at the moment.”
But the bitter anticlimax that did follow provoked no rethinking. Instead, it provoked all sorts of new demands. Judging everybody by the same standards was now regarded in some quarters as “racist” because it precluded preferences and quotas.
There are people today who talk “justice” when they really mean payback — including payback against people who were not even born when historic injustices were committed.
The nation has just been through a sensationalized murder trial in Florida, on which many people took fierce positions before a speck of evidence was introduced, judging those involved on nothing more than the color of their skin.
We have a long way to go to catch up to what Martin Luther King said 50 years ago. And we are moving in the opposite direction.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fissures begin to emerge among Dems
- Western Pa. business owners urge shoppers to think small
- Liberal Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg has stent placed in heart artery
- Pregnant woman struck by van in North Side dies; doctors save baby
- Free speech can be shield or a sword, as Cosby furor shows
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger says Saints game is ‘must win’
- Animal abuse
- Steelers’ backups ready to run
- Steelers cornerback Taylor ready to swap earpiece for helmet
- Snow expected to taper off in Pittsburgh by mid-afternoon
- Food for thought