Fifty years ago this week Dr. Martin Luther King gave his most famous speech - the “I have a dream” speech. Most people remember it for the stirring vision of freedom and equality for every American.
Wynton Marsalis points out, “How many of us today know that it was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom? I sure didn't. And it is now clear that poor and working class citizens need to be an integral part of our economic system. This necessity transcends race. Race is a matter of physiology; discrimination is a matter of culture, and culture shapes public perception, which influences political action.”
When I read the comments on the Fox News website about the 50th anniversary of the speech, the first several I saw were about how many blacks are criminals or on welfare. To at least some of the public, crime, poverty and race all blur together.
Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, noted at a 2010 Congressional briefing, that views of the cultural roots of poverty “play important roles in shaping how lawmakers choose to address poverty issues.”
There is no question that poverty still disproportionately impacts non-whites in America. In 2010, 27% of blacks and Hispanics were below the poverty level versus 9% of whites and 12% of Asians.
As long as lawmakers share the perception by some of the public that poverty shows a character flaw, political action won’t be of much use in the fight to end poverty.
We’ll just have to keep trying to change those perceptions and striving to live up to Dr. King’s vision of freedom and equality.