Yesterday, the birthday of a famous black Civil Rights leader and the inauguration of a black president collided for the first time. But while some might want to drink the Kool-Aid and believe that this landmark event is symbolic of a post-racial society, it's up for debate whether MLK's dream has actaully been achieved. One only has to look at the astounding incarceration and poverty rates for blacks in this country to realize that things are not exactly equal. Martin Luther King, Jr. isn't around to ask about the state of America today, but we can reflect on what he would have thought, which is exactly what we asked some strangers on the street to do.
Choi, Korean tourist: Martin Luther King?
He's the famous Civil Rights leader.
He tried to stop slavery, didn't he?
Nina, works in marketing: MLK would be proud of the great speech Obama gave about gay rights, and that a black man became president. He would have also been amazed to have seen such a talented singer like Beyoncé up at the inauguration.
Gay rights? Not that MLK probably had anything against them, but he wasn't a gay rights icon.
Yeah, he wasn't an icon. I think he would have been a champion of equal rights not just for the black community but for all people.
Jeremy, software engineer: He'd probably be somewhat disappointed that race relations aren't really that much better than when he was marching.
How have things not gotten much better?
There have obviously been advances, but I think it's pretty clear that people are not equal. There's still a lot of segregation—though it's not termed that way. I just think that with these 40 or 50 years, MLK would've expected there to be a lot more progress made.
Would Obama's presidency have been the only thing he'd be happy about?
I'm sure he would've been happy, I don't see any reason why he wouldn't be. But if you look at Congress or Obama's cabinet, those aren't very diverse places. It hasn't really changed since when MLK was alive and active.
Malina (left) and David, both college students.
[Both, simultaneously]: He'd be proud.
David: Proud to see a black man as president.
Malina: Second term!
David: Yeah, a black man as a second-term president. I mean, of course, everything's falling apart, but you can't fix Rome in a day.
What do you think is falling apart?
David: The economy, for example.
Malina: He's trying to fix it, but he's just one person.
David: Yeah, but Bush was just one person and it only took one person to ruin everything.
Malina: It's always easier to break something than to fix something.
So the economy's in ruins and can't be fixed. Would MLK think the race problems could be fixed?
Malina: Well, there're still some issues there but it's better than what it used to be, especially when MLK was alive. I think he'd be proud of where we've gone so far.
Yafang, mother: I'm sure he'd be very happy with it, with Obama being the first black president. He was fighting for black peoples' rights back then and today, a black president is being inaugurated.
Do you think MLK would think his dream had been achieved?
Race relations aren't as much of an issue as they were then, but problems still exist. Things have changed though, we're making progress. He would be happy, even if it wasn't as fast as he wanted, because everything takes time. Especially things like this. People will always have issues with different kinds of people.
Alma, restaurant manager and writer: He would totally celebrate with Obama. They would have a heart-to-heart and Obama would be inspired even more. It would be a really awesome meeting. I can only imagine them having dinner together and sitting in one room privately, without cameras. It'd reflect well not just on our country but on our people. We're one human race, we're not actually different races, and everybody would feel inside the connection that would be made.
Would MLK be happy or disappointed over race relations today?
He would say a lot of what Obama has said. He would say we've come a long way. He would say that a lot of people have come to realize what he taught and marched for many years ago, and he would be more positive and optimistic than, say, maybe, Al Sharpton. Or even that director… what's his name?
Yeah! Spike Lee thinks that every white person is responsible for slavery and I just go, "I hate to burst your bubble but nobody living right now is directly responsible for slavery. Their ancestors may be, their aunts and great-uncles, but not them." And MLK would acknowledge the progress. He would really be on Obama's side. It would be a very democratic and liberal thing.
Would MLK feel disappointed about Obama's cabinet being mostly white males?
No, I think he'd be optimistic that there would be people of color to come in the future. If anything, he would see this is the way it is, but obviously these people are on our side, so we can stop looking at the skin color of the situation. Which is great. MLK would really be like that, especially because he was more of a speaker for all people and less...
Less like Malcolm X?
Yeah, like Malcolm X would be like, "Noooo, nahnahnahnah."
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