Throughout President Barack Obama’s six and a half years in office, despite inheriting the worst economy since the great depression, facing unprincipled insurgent resistance from Republicans in Congress, and having to deal with the turbulent climate of race relations as the nation’s first Black president, the President has achieved undeniable success: passage of health care reform, the stimulus bill, Dodd-Frank bill (Wall Street Reform); he ended the war in Iraq, eliminated Osama Bin Laden, and created Race to the Top. In addition, Obama is the first president in the history of The United States to visit federal prisons, calling attention to the crisis of mass incarceration.
Yet despite Obama’s brilliance, charisma, oratorical gifts, and hard-fought political victories, America has yet to realize the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream.
As a nineteen year old Black man who aspires to be a transformational president one day, I admire Obama and have studied his presidency. Often, I have asked myself: if Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, what would he have to say about Obama’s presidency?
I feel that it is vital for us to look to the legacy of Dr. King, particularly his “I Have a Dream” speech where he states that he has a dream “that one day people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but instead by the content of their character.” I believe we have to challenge ourselves to think critically about the meaning of racial justice. Does a racially just society mean that racial prejudice is non-existent, or just significantly reduced?
In order for my generation to make marked progress in terms of reaching the racial promised land, we must define what racial justice means in political, economic, social, and cultural terms.
Since 1965, we have made great strides yet we have also borne witness to disheartening setbacks and disturbing reminders of the prevalence of racism and white supremacy along the way. What I am suggesting here is that a racially just society can only be fully conceived of and truly realized through broadening and deepening the scope of our moral vision, through specifying in concrete terms the goals we want to achieve and how we plan to achieve them in the years to come.
Our most valuable and reliable sources for help, hope, and power should consist of ourselves and our common history. Let us embrace the challenge of exploring the topography of a racially just society and in doing so ask ourselves: what can we do, individually and collectively, to get there?
Zach Wood is a sophomore at Williams College in Williamstown, MA majoring in political science and philosophy.