As I became more aware of my love of American history, I grew to be very proud of the fact that I was born in 1968, perhaps the most tumultuous year in 20th century American history. I also realized that my special birthdays would always mark the anniversaries of the deaths of King and Kennedy. So many people have concluded that 1968 proved to be a watershed year when liberalism as a truly respected political philosophy died in the embers of the riots that rocked the country.
On this 40th anniversary of MLK's death, I cannot help but marvel at the fact that we are watching a black person make a serious run for POTUS. We have a black Supreme Court Justice (regardless of what one thinks of his political philosophy, he is still a black man on the SCOTUS). We have a black woman who is in charge of all of our foreign policy as Secretary of State (and she is the second black person to have held that post within one administration). So much has happened, so much has changed, in my literal lifetime. I know that my ancestors would be gobsmacked to see what has come to pass.
Yet, there are problems that have risen among black folk that defy logic in many instances. The problems are well known, and they are obvious. I've posted my thoughts on some of those issues in the past. I think that Obama, in his speech on race was right to state that there are too many within the black community who, in the midst of the aforementioned tremendous changes, continue to see more obstacles than opportunities. I am not so naive that I dismiss genuine problems based on race. Condolezza Rice correctly stated that racism was like a birth defect for our nation, and that we have been trying to accomodate that defect since 1776. But to suggest, as so many whom I know do, that racism seems to be everywhere and on the rise, I think is an exercise in hyperbole.
Conversely, I think that too many self-described conservatives dismiss the legitimate anger that many older black folk continue to harbor. Conservatives look at the issue of race, and its impact on the black community, in a purely ahistorical fashion. There has been a black presence physically in the U.S. since 1619. For 345 of the 389 years that black folks have been here, the country actively worked to hold them back. I am a part of the first generation to live in this nation when legalized segregation had been dismantled permanently. Conservatives too often pretend that those first 345 years were not really much of a cuckhold on the black community and its effort to progress. It is a testament to the black community that it was able to flourish in several areas in spite of the orchestrated effort to thwart that progression. That is never really talked about by conservatives, but perhaps they someday will gain an historical perspective.
King's assassination reminds me of the fact that we will never know the full capabilities of a man who provided a voice for the pain of a people who'd struggled, and survived for centuries. King, through his words and actions (as well as the thousands of other black folks and their supporters in individual communities around the nation) fought to remind this country of what it could become when it honored its own principles. Though King had his flaws and shortcomings, his work, like the work of so many of our most revered American leaders, supercedes those problems. Forty years later, it's clear to see that King helped to re-shape what America was, as well as how it perceived itself, and we should thank him for helping us get there.