By Ernesto Alvarado
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved the masses. His fight for equal rights and the elimination of racial inequality veiled in law changed the face of race relations forever in the United States. His tragic destiny had him meet his maker at the point of a sniper's bullet that his enemies had hoped would stifle the movement he had so valiantly led. Instead, his death further fueled Americans across the nation to fight the hypocrisy of freedom for some and segregation for others. His death was the beginning of a new chapter in American history and few could have the foresight to see that the end of his life would be as important as any speech given during the Civil Rights Movement.
But what if Dr. King would have survived his assassin's bullet? What if Dr. King were alive in the present or somehow, as the critically-acclaimed show "The Boondocks" so eloquently demonstrated, returned from his wounds to face our modern era? As racial tensions once again flare up following a series of crimes that purport to have race as an underlying motive, could this messiah we have all revered since his death be of any use in the modern times?
As technology has given us the unique ability to express our opinions, criticize others', and gather information with relative ease, we have become extremely efficient at questioning and tearing the wings off of martyrs often built by our own keystrokes. This generation has transformed into the blood-thirsty mobs of the Roman Empire who demanded demise for their own entertainment. Would Dr. King prove once again to be a sacrificial lamb to the skeptical and narrow-minded society we have become a part of and eventually meet the same fate as his Christian brethren at the mouths of lions while we all play witness?
Would we love or hate a modern Dr. King?
Would his message be lost in his religious beliefs?
Religion has become a taboo subject to the American public and in the political realm it is used much like Mark Twain once said information is used, "for support rather than illumination." This negative stigma has turned arguments with a theological framework into prime targets for criticism on the grounds of lofty ideals as opposed to practical guidelines. The current conservative regime in the United States takes it to the other extreme by isolating many Americans through their ideals that religious rhetoric should trump certain rules of law that lead our moral compass astray. Liberals in turn, paint a comical caricature of the "bible-clutching, gun-bearer" in Middle America that further fuels a divide of how to view religion. America continues to have an identity crisis over its Christian roots.
Dr. King was a reverend sparked into action by the injustices of societies against his community. His speeches and criticisms oozed of religious morals and scriptures aimed at speaking of a destiny and higher power that ultimately has jurisdiction over mankind. His vision of the movement was one of a shepherd leading his flock to the promised land. Dr. King used religion in a way that would motivate and not divide the masses while also infusing his language with theological teachings that would maintain the morality of the Civil Rights Movement. I fear that in today's world however, Dr. King's religious framework would be seen as a veiled attempt to play into some sort of political advantages. Americans no longer view religion as a way to understand the morality of a movement but many view it rather as a cheap ploy to lead the blind through a manifest destiny sort of idea that skeptics would attack vehemently.
Would Dr. King's movement be seen as divisive?
Dr. King did not speak of a movement for Civil Rights for blacks only. He spoke of all creeds coming together to make a stand against racial inequality and welcomed all peoples that supported a truly equal and free America. He created a truly national dialogue on racism that this nation had not yet had, nor has it since. The removal of denial towards America's race problem made many uncomfortable and others aggressive, but it was a necessary step toward the progression of a truly multiracial state that Dr. King envisioned. He did not ask, but demanded justice for all peoples and moved his followers to demand the elimination of the juridical and social shackles that held them down for far too long under the pretext of "American Society."
Now imagine a vocal black religious activist demanding justice for all and a systematic overhaul of social constraints that hamper true equality in the U.S. Dr. King would instantly be lambasted for his efforts and face claims of: race-pandering, reverse racism or discrimination against non-minorities, unfair advantages for others under Affirmative Action and other social programs, and (the one President Obama faces) the claims of his socialist ideals bent on destroying modern America. Many of my colleagues have written that we are not ready to face the ugly truth of racial divides in this country and we have not had a leader since Dr. King that could force us to the table. While he was successful in his initial attempts, one would be hard-pressed to find someone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice he once made for the cause. Segments of the American public would see him as merely a preacher with a stereotypical "angry black man" complex and paint him in such a fashion as to create the proverbial us vs. them argument, thereby minimizing him and his message. A divide and conquer tactic that is all too prominent in modern politics.
Would his personal life trump his message?
Dr. King's legacy has been dogged with questions of moral shortcomings and infidelities, which have once again come to light in the released memoirs of Jackie Kennedy. At first glance, this would seem to not be an issue that could derail such a powerful message from a larger-than-life man, but our generation has become expert in tearing down idols. With scandal and shame but an "enter" button away and information so readily available, it can be seen how easily an attack on Dr. King could be formulated in order to discredit him. KONY 2012 and the Zimmerman/Trayvon case prove as glaring examples of how fickle we become by focusing on character flaws and dismissing the bigger picture (KONY has led to more action in the African Union towards finding the war criminal and the Zimmerman/Trayvon case has shed light on a faulty gun law in Florida). We are quick to end movements with an "I told you so" or "You're stupid because you care/ don't care enough" that we allow our skepticism to inhibit our reason and dismiss positives over a Puritanistic standard of what our leaders should live up to; one that is all too often unrealistic. Whether Dr. King's indiscretions are true or not, it is very likely that his aura would be lost - and with it his message.
What would he think of his dream?
For most minorities, Dr. King is revered as one of the most influential persons in American history. We are often engrained with the meaning of his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and reminded that many of the opportunities afforded to us are directly or indirectly because of him. For many, President Obama's election was the culmination of what Dr. King spoke about. Yet, it comes as no surprise that minorities are often their own worst critics and that those critiques come very often when discussing our current state. For all intents and purposes, he would realize that many parts of his dreams would still be a long ways away.
Even with massive improvements to equality from the era of the Civil Rights Movement, minorities are still faltering and falling short from what Dr. King proposed. Given the tools at our disposal, graduation rates should be higher but we continue to be mired in sub-standard education. Inner cities across the nation continue to struggle with crime, drug use, and economic inequality that is not normal for a country of our standing. Dr. King's emphasis on looking out for ourselves and our community would fall on deaf ears and our generation has taught us to focus on our personal ambitions rather than trying to uplift our communities. Our narrow-minded and materialistic goals continue to hamper our intellectual pursuits and the societal improvements Dr. King envisioned. He would shudder in disdain at the unexpected consequences of new freedoms. We would ignore his outdated rhetoric and dismiss him as another idealistic fool. To him, we'd be too young to understand. To us, he'd be too old to get it.
Ultimately, one can never really know what would happen if the past collided with the modern times. Dr. King was hated during his time by many and we tend to only truly appreciate a genius when he or she is gone. Maybe we were only meant to see Dr. King in his prime so that he would inspire us without having to see his aura being ripped apart by the times. Many times we see our heroes lost past their golden days and it gives us a sense of sadness and nostalgia at how far gone their glory is. Who doesn't feel pity when seeing the great Muhammed Ali struggling to move? Who enjoyed seeing Jordan bitter at the HOF podium over things he didn't accomplish? Sometimes we are only meant to see greatness at its height so we aren't disillusioned by its inevitable decline. Many in the world wouldn't be ready for him. Maybe the true question isn't whether we would hate him, but rather would he love what we've become?
Dr. King changed the world with his words, molded a nation with his actions, and inspired generations with his thoughts. We are able to sleep easier with the memory of his dream. He showed us that each step is as important as the next. To dream you must sleep, and if you can't fall asleep, don't count sheep but speak to the shepherd who will guide you to the correct path.
"The return of the king" - The Boondocks