Long story short: There is still a lot of work to be done. On this day, we celebrate what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 89th birthday — and nearly 50 years since his untimely passing. A staple in not only the Black community but also in America’s journey toward unity, MLK is a without a doubt a legend and a pioneer in peace.
Although King’s work has long lived past his own life, there is still work to be done to ensure his loss turns into a lesson, and that his pain doesn’t go in vain. Check out the nine ways in which we are living (and still not living) the American dream, according to King.
1. We Had a Black President and First Family
Unforgettable former POTUS Barack Obama shifted the culture and American dream back in 2008 when he was elected the country’s first Black president. Even more powerful than being the nation’s president was Obama’s role as a family man. His unshakeable and extremely admirable love of his family was like something straight out of The Cosby Show.
No. 44’s constant adoration, acknowledgement and credit to his wife, Michelle, for making him the man he was painted a positive portrait of the Black family home and structure—not to mention, having daughters (Sasha and Malia) and showing his love and support to them was an important vision for Black women to take in. The reality is that Obama was one man supported by three strong and beautiful Black females. And he never failed to remind us of that!
2. The Reactivation of Black Activism and the “Woke” Culture
When it comes to seeing matters in “Black and White,” it seems that some of the new school got a little lost in seeing “gray” during their quest for equality in the decades after the 1982 dissolution of the Black Panther Party—that is, until the 2013 acquittal of the
low-life racist man who killed unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin. With the exception of hip-hop’s political rap peak in the ’90s (thanks, N.W.A!), the 17-year-old Martin’s 2011 death at the hands of then-30-year-old George Zimmerman was the impetus of Black Lives Matter, a movement intended to bring awareness of the injustices suffered by Black people and their untimely deaths, and/or lack of justice at the hands of racists and/or the government. Dr. King would certainly approve.
3. Social Media Activism Is Really a Thing
#HashtagMLK. We’ve come a long way since the days of making a Myspace just for “my space.” One thing about “social media activism” is that it may not always be physically proactive, but one can’t deny it’s certainly contagious. Going viral is the new goal when it comes to bringing awareness to certain issues, and “viral-bility,” is a major key in creating visibility. These days, the start of justice is at the click of one’s fingertips— literally.
4. Black Roles in Hollywood Are Lit—From Victims and Villains to Victors and Winning!
During a time when Black folks are often portrayed as victims or villains (see No. 2 above), some positive small-screen and big-screen programming is imperative. Two-time EBONY cover subject and “biopic king” Chadwick Boseman (who has played trailblazers Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson), will officially star as the title character of The Black Panther in what will arguably be one of Marvel’s biggest superhero franchise movies to date. The film has already had the highest pre-release ticket sales in Marvel history—and it doesn’t come out for another month.
In addition, Netflix series Luke Cage also became a huge Black superhero staple back in 2016. The best part? Both also feature strong Black female characters. Take that and the likes of Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal starring Kerry Washington and How to Get Away with Murder with Viola Davis. Black people are lit on TV. During a time when Black people are constantly seeing the deaths of their peers go viral (with little or no repercussions), more Black heroes and heroines in the media is restoring the feeling of power in people of color.
5. Interracial Love Is No Longer Seen as Taboo
“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.” —Martin Luther King Jr.
Just so we’re clear, MLK was married to a beautiful Black queen by the name of Coretta Scott King and together, they were not only #BlackLoveGoals but also love goals in general. Similar to Barack Obama, King was very intentional in placing his queen and his family at the forefront of his activism. He was not only a man, he was a family man.
On the topics of equality and unity, however, King often preached on rising above racial tension and separation, and we believe this included friendships and romantic relationships. With that said, the since Loving v. Virginia trial, interracial relationships in the nation marriages have increased by nearly 600 percent—going from 3 percent of the U.S. population to over 17 percent. Now, does this take away from #BlackLove goals? Absolutely not. But sometimes the best romantic relationships start from friendships. And although we cannot co-sign King’s ideas about interracial love, we can certainly testify to his dreams for racial equality.
6. Rape Culture Is Grossly Still a Thing (But We’re Working on It)
First things first: shout-out to Tarana Burke for creating the #MeToo movement and getting the conversation on “casual rape” culture back into the spotlight (it’s disgusting that such an ideology even exists); #MeToo was intended to bring awareness to all the women who “too” have been victims of sexual abuse. After the campaign resurfaced and went viral on social media, not only did Burke become TIME’s Person of the Year for 2017, but many Hollywood hotshots also have been called out for sexual abuse and/or many women and men have come forward as victims, including actor Terry Crews. Recently, Oprah herself delivered a powerful #MeToo-esque / #TimesUp speech at the 2018 Golden Globes, proving that the fight is not over.
On the bittersweet side of things, the fact that rape culture has been normalized for this long is absolutely repulsive. The fact that Crews, a dominate Black male actor who has always taken on “stronger” roles has alleged his genitals were touched in front of his wife by a White Hollywood agent while at a Hollywood party proves there is still plenty work to be done in reversing the objectification of Black people.
7. Oh, and Intersectional Feminism Is Real
“Intersectional feminism” is the idea that feminism was created with the agenda to protect and serve White woman, not all women. The fight for women’s rights did not kick off until the mid-19th century, with it peaking about a hundred years later in the 1960s. Because of the injustice Black people suffer being normalized, it is often believed (and has been proved) that feminism was originated, and often conceptualized and practiced, to protect White women only. Of course, Black women joined the fight later on, but there is still plenty of work that needs to be done to reverse the notion that feminism is singular in terms of race. Women’s rights applies to all women, period. And we’re sure Coretta—and Martin–would agree!
8. “-Isms” (Classims, Colorsim, Elitsm) Are, Sadly, Still a Thing in Our Community
“Light ni**a, dark ni**a, faux ni**a, real ni**a, Rich ni**a, poor ni**a, house ni**a, field ni**a — Still ni**a!” — Jay-Z “Story of O.J.”
Somehow, in the 21st century, we’ve managed to still have the slave mentality of separating ourselves based on a number of “isms,” be it elitism, classism or colorism. Since the early days of slavery, it has been intentional to keep Black folks “separated” by all means, in order to avoid a revolt and conquer. By separating the husband from his wife, or emasculating a Black male slave in front of his family or placing mulattos (lighter-colored Black people) to work inside the home while those more melanin-rich worked the hot fields, it would make Black people avoid being seen as “one.” The divisive strategy was intentional. With Black being the dominant race in more ways than one, slave owners wanted to keep Black folks brainwashed to avoid their untimely uprising and ultimate revolt.
We have come a long way since the days of slavery, but we still have centuries of reverse-brainwashing to be rid off, and there is much work to be done. Sometimes, our community still finds ways to be divisive. Even when it comes to shared skin tones, people will still find ways to separate race vs. ethnicity (e.g., proud Black Latinas fighting to prove they are Black and Latina, since race and nationality are two different things). It’s a shame. Our ancestors proved in the past that we are stronger united … so why can’t we work to be stronger together to build a better future?
9. Some of Ya’ll Still Sleep, Though … (Wake Up.. Get Out!)
I mean … this is pretty explanatory. If you’re “Still sleep in 2018,” it’s time to stop being a joke and #GETWOKE! #StopSettlingForBeingGoodWhenYouWereBornToBeGREAT