This week has seen the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. As such it provides a timely opportunity to reflect on the ‘Brotherhood of Man’ (where that term is gender indifferent, referring to humanity in general, of course).
It is generally accepted that his powerfully orated ‘dream’ has long come true. People of colour who are citizens in democracy now have the full and equal rights and freedoms that were central to the vision espoused in his famous speech, delivered to a crowd of a quarter of a million souls in Washington during March 1963.
This is, of course, also the centenary year of women gaining the vote in the UK. In one century we transformed a society in which any power was restricted to white men of a certain level of wealth to one in which all citizens of any gender and ethnicity are given a say through both the ballot box and in the protection of the rights and freedoms of all.
Yet we have not eradicated unhealthy divisions that are fuelled by hatred. We see around us islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and, the current flavour of the season for the popular press, anti-semitism. Racism is alive and well in hard pockets but it now sits amongst a more general issue with a focus on a variety of stigmatisms that are colour blind. And there are minorities within minorities perpetrating equally venomous rancour and contempt against the majority and ‘the system’, and, with that, holding sway with the vulnerable and easily led, generating civil disobedience and worse.
Social media provides an easy channel for purveyors of hate to spread their toxic views, mostly under the protective cloak of the closed group and even the dark web. We have undercurrents within our communities, but they are hidden and unofficial, not woven into the constitutional fabric as in the time of Martin Luther King.
That original fight was against exclusion from opportunity and all that pinned people of colour to the poorest ranks of US society. Are the factors that drive hatred in our communities the same today, does bitterness still foster hatred amongst those who struggle in lowly circumstance? Do increasingly commonplace open expressions of hatred spill out because for the perpetrators it the only way in which they can find a voice?
Whatever, the bile that has been poured out upon Luciana Berger, Laura Kuenssberg, Jonathan Arkush and others in the wake of the row over Mear One’s artistic but fundamentally objectionable mural was completely unacceptable. It appears indicative of a potential breakdown of common decency within our society and needs to be purged.
Is it time for a new vision, a Dream 2.0? If so, what should that be and where will it come from? What will its building blocks be? Do issues of equality of opportunity remain? How far are we as a society from a recognition that each and every human soul is worthy of being treated with civility and respect and acceptance for who they are?
Are there lessons from Martin Luther King that can still be learned today and, if so, how do we embrace them in our work at the grass roots of our communities, where we toil to instill hope?