Next week Tuesday marks the 49th anniversary of the Jobs and Freedom march on Washington DC when the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jnr made his famous I Have A Dream speech in front of 200,000 followers. In 2013, activists plan to mark the 50th anniversary with their own march right here in London.
With a whole year to plan it the march promises to be potentially the biggest such gathering in Britain for many years. A big turnout will show that the legacy and teachings of Dr King are still relevant today and that the struggle against racism, in all its’ forms, must continue not just for our sakes but for our children’s sakes too.
It will be a recognition that we only got half-way up that mountain with civil rights legislation but have gradually slid back down again ever since, on both sides of the Atlantic. That we are demanding to put race equality back on the political agenda and are prepared to galvanise ourselves to mount a fresh assault on the peak of that mountain.
I hope there will be a big enough crowd to show we, the people, mean business. Black and white, old and young, straight or gay.
The Occupy Movement, representing the 99%, have shown they will sit down and will not be moved. But power and corruption were still unmoved, from the Libor bank rates scandal to the web connecting Murdoch’s Empire to David Cameron’s. Surely now, as well as sitting down for the 99% we also need to stand up and march?
There will be many voices who say ‘but that’s old fashioned!’ But not nearly as old fashioned as the corruption they don’t want us to protest about.
In his Mountain Top speech, Dr King said: “If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school – be there. Be concerned about your brother. Either we go up together, or we go down together.”
To me, these words say that whatever part we play in society, however successful or otherwise we may be, when the community cries out in pain, we all need to answer. When trouble occurs, we all need to answer the call.
The Diaspora is one tree. We may be a fabulous bright and colourful flower at the top of that tree, but if someone is hacking at the trunk with an axe even that flower needs to be concerned!
The beauty of Dr King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial – on that hot August day – was that he shone a light not just on the barriers confronting the masses, or just on the battles ahead, but on the destination.
When he looked over that mountain top he saw a vision of genuine cultural interaction and mutual respect, not as an ideological concept, or as an intellectual ideal, but as an everyday reality. ”I may not get there with you”, he said, but we the people will make it!
Almost half a century on, as we celebrate the success of the London Olympics, it appears as if we’ve got lost on that mountain amid the fog of multiculturalism. The impression of progress, of living in a more tolerant society with less overt racism, has blinded many to the indicators showing racial disadvantage as entrenched as ever.
Black youth twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts. Higher mortality rates, worse health. Disproportionate rates of incarceration, higher sentences for the same crimes and police 28 times more likely to stop and search a black man.
We may live in a modern diverse society but the absence of conflict hides the absence of justice. We’re getting along without getting on.
Many are fond of quoting from Dr King’s I Have A Dream speech, that a man should be judged not by the colour of his skin but by the content of his character. But in a later TV interview he elaborated by stating that “until a man is judged by the content of his character and not by the colour of his skin, let us be dissatisfied.“
It was a theme he expanded upon in his Where Do We Go From Here speech four years later:
Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.
Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.
Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.
Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.
Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.
Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.
Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin.
Let us be dissatisfied.
This is the Dr King that some would rather forget. The man who challenged the corporations (he singled out Coca-Cola in his Mountain Top speech). The man who said we shall not compromise until our demands are met.
Today, almost 50 years on from the Freedom March, we are armed with more information about injustice and disadvantage than ever before. Social media gives us more ways of communicating with each other and holding the elite to account than ever before. We know more about our history than ever before.
The only thing holding back demands for justice and equality is ourselves. The belief that all is well because in today’s modern and diverse society we are all equal.
Yet some still feel intimidated walking into a Town Hall, never mind the Palaces of Westminster. Too many forget, or are unaware, that their own ancestors’ blood built the damn building in the first place and rightfully we should own it.
We are equal yet we do not feel at home in a grand stately house or a country pub. We believe that certain jobs and professions are out of our grasp. We are free but afraid of revealing even the tiniest glimpse of our true cultural selves in a ‘professional’ environment, or feel pressure to have a white partner in order to be more accepted in certain circles.
I have written many times about reparations for enslavement, but aside from financial reparations, affirmative action reparations and trade reparations we need reparations for the soul. A process of mental detoxification articulated so well by the author Dr Joy Leary, so that everyone has the confidence to feel equal enough to take their slice of the pie with no fear.
Demanding justice from a position of mental and spiritual strength drawn from the roots and directly from our ancestors. Where we can say to those who discriminate: ‘I’m sorry, you are not yet equal to us. Stop your discriminating, and then you can be equal!’
And if all that fails, say to them: ‘Right, I know you’ve understood what I’ve said. You don’t want to move? Fine! There are thousands of us here. We’re united, we’re determined and we’re not taking “no” for an answer. So get ready, ‘cos we’re about to get post-racial on your ass!’
We don’t need dreams if we can see the view from the mountain top ourselves. That is why we need to strive to climb that mountain together, starting next August in London. Don’t just make a mental note to turn up. Get organised. Get creative. Mobilise your own friends, family and neighbours! Let’s make it a moment in black British history.
By Lester Holloway