When Martin Luther King made his famous “I have Dream” speech even his most ardent supporters were wary that the dream he spoke of was going to be a long time in the making. Forty years is a long time, but few then, and until last year, few could have imagined that a black man would be going to the White House in January 2009.
Have we completed the journey? Has that imagined dream come to its final resolution? No, but what we see is encouraging. Prejudice and fear of others never really goes away. It will reside in the minds of a few members of society no matter where we find ourselves in the evolution of thought. There are some among us that harbor malice based on race, religion, ethnicity, or any behavior that is foreign to them, but what has changed, and this is significant, is that it is not socially acceptable to denigrate people based on these factors. Some say that this is because we have learned to be politically correct. Perhaps, but unlearning hurtful words and attitudes is a process. It takes practice.
Having in your mind a set of stereotypes of various cultures are not necessarily negative. And sometimes those stereotypes are accurate. The Irish have a reputation as storytellers. They are great storytellers. The great authors of plays, poetry, and novels coming out of that segment of the population is formidable, and while not all Irish people can create a great story, the stereotype holds up. African-Americans have a reputation that has them claiming enormous contribution the country’s music. It is an accurate perception of their accomplishments in that field. Italians have been known to be the builders. These are people who are comfortable with concepts of construction. Similar positive statements can be made about all cultures in the American mix.
Each group of people has claim in some part of the arts and sciences where they excel. It’s also true that not all of these ethnic members are excellent at what are the groups’ “known” talents. We are, in the end, individuals, and we may possess skills that transcend the perceived talents of our respective groups.
The term “melting pot” has been used to describe America. It implies to me, an undecernable gumbo. America to me is more of an eclectic garden. The entire garden is quite beautiful, but it is comprised of various elements that are very different. Each section of the garden flows seamlessly to another, and the individual specimens that make up the garden are as important as the whole scheme of the garden.
If I could speak to Dr King today, I would say. “We are not quite there yet, but we are making serious progress."