With the recent passing of MLK Day on Monday, the current state of race relations in this country has been a hot topic the past few days. Undoubtedly also fueling these conversations is the soon departure of the country’s first African American president from office and his controversial successor’s imminent inauguration. And so, this past Monday I just took some time to sit back and reflect on how race effects my everyday life, and truly question how things have changed since coming to Dartmouth 3 years ago.
Being from California, I believe my experience with race is different than many other people around this country. Unquestionably a melting pot of many different cultures, ethnicities, languages, and schools of thought; California culture as a whole is very open and tolerant to everyone. Does racism exist in California? Undeniably. But is it on the forefront of your mind every single day as you live your life? I would argue not so much, being aware of my blackness always existed; but truly feeling outcast or inferior simply based on the color of my skin did not plague my everyday thoughts and actions. I attended a primarily white elementary/middle school and hispanic high school, but never quite felt ostracized or sectioned out at times based solely on the color of my skin until I reached Dartmouth. Though I am very thankful and grateful to have the opportunity to attend such a well respected and incredible institution, Dartmouth was the first place I have ever attended that at times I truly felt out of place or completely an outsider. A possible conclusion of me maturing and becoming more aware of the world around me and the complexities of life we all deal with? A contributing factor,most definitely. But Dartmouth culture is very different, and is something that has made me more aware of who I am in ways I could of only previously imagined.
You see, because even though I may attend an Ivy League school, and am currently working toward an engineering degree, to many I am and always will be just another black man. A black man, point blank period. And as I have continued to grow and figure out this game we call life, I’ve realized that no degree or amount of money can change the perception being a man of color in this country holds in the eyes of many people. I am still going to be the target of racial profiling at stores, be viewed as uneducated and unintelligent simply based on the clothes I decide to wear, and the recipient of the excessive use of force from police departments. And even here, at such a prestigious school of intellectual thought and reasoning, the term “black lives matter” is still somehow deemed controversial. Not “Black lives are more important than white lives” or “Black lives are superior”, simply “BLACK LIVES MATTER”. Even in 2017, simply stating black lives matter is somehow an attack on whiteness and a threat to white America. I truly wonder sometimes if the individuals who say things like “All lives Matter” would dare go to a 5k in support of cancer awareness and hold up signing saying “All diseases matter”. But I digress, the truth of the matter is even in 2017, many of the things Dr. King spoke about in his rhetoric are still major problems we face today. Videos of police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men have become common place in the media, white-nationalist and neo-nazi parties are on the rise and are alive and well, and protest against the oppression have begun turning more toward violent means of resistance than King would of preferred (Even though Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not as anti-violence as many try to make him out to be). And so I sit here, at the beginning of the year 2017, trying to discern this idea of ‘progress’ many claim we’ve made.
Obama’s presidency represented the great hope for many Americans. The finish line, for lack of a better term of racial equality and opportunity for all in this country. However, racial tension is currently at its greatest height since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and race is at the forefront of American culture more and more everyday. Much alike previous times in history, this very aggressive left winged progressive movement of electing our first African American president, has been met with an equally strong conservative counterpunch with our current president elect. Say what you want about Donald Trump’s business mentality and prowess, there is no denying his inexperience within the political and miltary sphere. Something, in terms of reaching our nations highest office, is unprecedented. But through a campaign tarnished with bigoted rhetoric, sexist remarks, and insensitivity toward the disabled and other marginalized groups, Trump has found a way to still garner enough support to become 45th president of the United States. And as much as it pains me to see a lot of the hard work president Obama put into action probably about to get repealed and overturn, this is not my biggest disappointment about what happened during this election. Political change and balance is what makes a democracy a democracy, and thus change is inevitable. My biggest concern with the appointment of Donald Trump as president is not his political views or plans, but the type of man he really is. Because for the first time in my lifetime, I have truly questioned and felt uneasy about the morality and ‘content of [his] character’, of the next president of the United States.
And so as I reflect on the dream and vision Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had for this country, a dream based on freedom and equal opportunity for all, but most importantly; a idea that men will first be judged not based upon the color of their skin but the content of their character, I stand dumbfounded at the result of this last election. A man who has been involved in more scandals during his campaign than Obama has been involved in during his entire 8 years as president, is now about to replace him. But all anyone can talk about is ‘progress’. A man whose biggest flaws and concerns center not around his political rhetoric but the ‘content of [his] character’ is now in charge, and with this reality, America has spoken to me loud of clear. For Obama to become president, he not only had to be scholarly, intellectual, well-spoken and a good quality family man; he had to be scandal free and deemed a very trustworthy and moral human being above all other requirements. All Donald Trump had to be was rich and white, period. To say we have not made progress from the 1960s would be ridiculous, but to equally say we don’t still have a long way to go before we reach the ideal Dr. King preached about would be an understatement. Two steps forward one step back some might say, but nonetheless, our nation must continue to move forward and we will continue to push forward for equality to make his dream turn into a reality. And I just pray that the Lord will watch over our nation as we head into this time of great transition and we somehow come out of this stronger and more united.
Do you believe we’ve reached the mountaintop Dr. King spoke about regarding race relations in this country? If so, comment below and join the discussion.