Forty-six years ago I was sitting at my little desk where I worked as a receptionist for a surgeon in Compton, Calif., when the announcement was made regarding the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I recall jumping up from my chair to run to tell my employer, Dr. Miller and he met me in the hallway because someone had called him and he was on his way to my area to hear the news. Dr. Miller said, “ I think that I will go to Memphis.” But, a second after his comment, the announcement was made that King was dead.
So much has happened on so many fronts since that sad day in 1968, but one thing that has not happened is the full realization of the “beloved community.” King worked tirelessly to create the atmosphere where whites and blacks could find the path to true community. But in 2014, there continues to be fear and great hesitation in both communities about trying to move along a path to genuine understanding and to the creation of a truly beloved community.
For one thing there are still too many white people who are afraid to engage in a conversation about race beyond a very superficial level. It seems there is a deep-seated fear that every conversation will be designed to elicit guilt and shame. Much of the dialogue that I have an opportunity to participate in and to conduct bears witness to this deep- seated fear.
Along with the fear about being made to feel guilt and shame seems to be a fair amount of uneasiness about acknowledging that racism continues to thrive in our country. There is a tendency to point out things such as our having elected a biracial president, or the success of a few other high profile African-Americans as an example of how far we have come since those early days of racial discrimination.
Of course there is a serious flaw in this analysis. The president and all others who have managed to rise to positions of prominence have little impact upon the entrenched racist structures that continue to disenfranchise black people and other people of color. This is especially evident in the ways that the court system operates, economic disparity, life span statistics and in virtually every arena of life in America. One need only take a close look in these areas to discover the great discrepancy between the quality of life of African-Americans and other people of color and white people even on this very day.
Forty-six years ago the dreamer was killed and while we have asserted that the dream cannot be killed by killing the dreamer, it is difficult to see how much of the real dream is still alive. It seems too many of us, whites and blacks, have gotten back to business as usual far too soon. There is still much work to be done. The beloved community seems to be way out on the horizon beyond our sight and capacity to reach it.
African-Americans and other people of color have some work to do as well in helping to build the beloved community. But we have to begin by making sure we are standing on a firm and unshakable foundation. It is from such a position of strength that honest words can be spoken that can help open the door of consciousness for whites and other African- Americans who may not engage in the much needed work of self reflection.
Beloved community creation requires a conversation. We continue to be better at monologue than dialogue. King told us before he was killed that we have to talk to one another and no amount of years of being politically correct and polite can change that fact. Dialogue is essential for beloved community formation.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at email@example.com.