What Dr. King's message might be today
I think Dr. Martin Luther King would be particularly pleased with the extraordinary political and economic achievements of some people of color. During Dr. King's life, the civil rights issues essentially amounted to holding America to its founding promise by attacking rampant discrimination and Jim Crow laws in the south. The most pressing issues today confronting minority communities have little to do with Jim Crow.
But today, Dr. King would know that America is still faced with seemingly overwhelming problems: homelessness, poverty, crime, drugs, hypertension, disparities in health care, economic inequality, inequality of the criminal justice system, social injustice, and educational inequality. And, of course the intractable war in Iraq and the obscene inattention to the genocide in Darfur.
Dr. King would elaborate with riveting eloquence on all of these social, human, and civil rights issues, and he would implore the United States Congress to use its legislative power to be more responsive in confronting these problems aggressively.
I think that Dr. King would speak openly about things that many people, particularly what the culturally conservative, find exceedingly distasteful or discomforting; and that is confronting certain behaviors that can lead to the spread of HIV, because the new struggle is against AIDS, which disproportionately affects those who are primarily poor and nonwhite.
Dr. King would urge the black community, the government, and people from all races to realize that no community is an island, and that a health crisis engulfing America's most vulnerable citizens is ultimately a threat to America itself.
One of the most important facts about human beings is that we are not all alike. Yet if we are to survive, we must live in a world composed not only of differing individuals, but also of differing groups. And, if we are to adjust ourselves to such a world, we must understand what such differences mean, and how they may determine our individual and group destinies. We still have deep ethnic, religious and racial prejudices in every community in America.
In light of the recent horrific anti-Semitic and racial rants by Mel Gibson and Michael Richards, Dr. King would ask us to examine our own prejudices and ask what this tells us about ourselves, and what it means, and how it affects our children.
Whether or not hateful remarks are made in stressful situations or in private social settings, we must be mindful of how inappropriate and damaging these intolerant remarks are and how they affect our daily lives and the lives of our children and others.
I think Dr. King would ask all of us to actively and sincerely work in our own communities, to eliminate ethnic and racial biases.
And we here, on Martha's Vineyard, can do our part to work toward Dr. King's dream of a world where every man, every woman, and every child can live in peace, with honor and respect.
Marie B. Allen was president of the Martha's Vineyard chapter of the NAACP, from 2004 to 2006.