Battle for equality is at crossroads

Published 7:39 am Wednesday, January 22, 2003

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP - Managing Editor
As our nation remembered Rev. Martin Luther King on Monday, it seems like a great time to consider how far we have come in the fight for equal rights and how far we have to go. But, it is obvious to many that the fight has changed. It is no longer a white v. black issue. The lines have now blurred and it seems that all sides - black, white or other - are often guilty by association.
Even now, 30 years after the assassination of MLK, we are still fighting for what is right and what is wrong. The question now is, 'is the fight the same?'
When we look back at the first half of the 20th century we can see the injustice of Jim Crow and segregationist policies. It is obvious that a caste system existed that allowed one facet of society to improve through generations while another was locked in their situations. As more African Americans explored the world through military service and education, people like Martin Luther King emerged to protest the injustice.
While the fight for equal status among all of our citizens must continue, it seems that the fight has not modernized with the times. I think if Martin Luther King were here today, he would have a new message, one that corresponds with the issues of today.
I like to think that if he were alive, he would take his message of tolerance and equality to where it would do the most good - to the young people who are still capable of opening their minds and opening their hearts. Like most things in this world, the key lies in educating and teaching our children the value of diversity that has not been stressed nearly enough.
I am not against litigation when one feels they were treated unjustly, nor am I totally against affirmative action. However, both are being misused and abused. We should be working to eliminate affirmative action, not leaning upon it like it is the pillar that holds our nation together. It is time to modernize affirmative action in a way that allows companies to reward jobs to those most qualified, but maintain racial diversity.
There also seem to be needs within the organizations known as allies in the civil rights movement. It seems to me, as an outsider looking in, that these groups need a new, modern message. We are a long way from the 50s and 60s, but it seems these groups are still fighting the old fight. I mean, how many students can Jesse Jackson free from the overbearing aggression of a school board and principal. Dr. King would probably tell the kid to mind his teachers and parents.
I believe that Martin Luther King truly believed in his dream. Perhaps it was naive to believe that we could live in a nation where no one recognized another's color or ethnicity. Perhaps we will never live in a world where we can speak our own opinions and not be considered a racist based on them. Perhaps we will never live in a world where we can look at one bad apple and recognize that the bunch is still good.
I tend to believe that Dr. King's dream can come true. We are in the process of making it come true. We have won some battles. But, we are at a point where we need to rethink the strategy to match the questions and issues of the new millennium.
Some may say that my attitude toward today's civil rights struggle is simple-minded. Others will tell me I give Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement too much credit. Either way, my dream of a nation that embraces its diversity and learns to be tolerant of each other's views and histories is still alive and doing well.

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