On August 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his iconic “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It included these oft-repeated words:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
While it’s easy to see the color of skin, it’s hard to see the content of character. Things have improved somewhat, with a president whose skin color is darker than that of white Americans, with dark-skinned men and women on television and in academia. Things haven’t changed all that much, with black kids stopped on the street by the millions and presumed to be thieves in the finest stores.
But what of the content of their character? It occurred to me some years ago that the internet held a special opportunity. We could read the words a person wrote, the ideas a person conveyed, without having the slightest clue whether the person was black, white or green.
Online, we all look the same. No one is black or white. No one is male or female. No one has a beautifully-made bespoke suit to dazzle all comers when contrasted with the pajama-clad home officer lawyer. Before the blawgosphere existed, there was little chance that a solo criminal defense lawyer would cross paths with the general counsel of Sun Micro. Other than having tables near each other at Bouley, we existed in different spheres. Today, we’re cyberneighbors, and I can knock on his door anytime I please. He can ignore me, but at least I know where he lives.
So there you are, a dream come true. Which raised the question, what have we made of it?
Now that there is a medium where skin color doesn’t get in the way, how has this content of character thing worked out for us? I hesitate to write these words, as I am so very disinclined to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I would venture to say that it hasn’t panned out very well.
Back in 1963, there were men like Martin Luther King, Jr., willing to risk their lives for a cause they believed to be just and right. They were deemed subversive by the most powerful, and required constant investigation lest they bring down this great nation by demanding racial equality. Ultimately, it cost Martin Luther King, Jr., his life, just as it would cost the lives of others, including the freedom riders, who believed that a cause was worth the risk.
Who are today’s freedom riders on a colorless internet? The vast majority of passionate voices today aren’t concerned with freedom or justice, however they perceive those words. Rather, they are the voices of money. While they may not be screaming hop on the
freedom money train or get left behind, that’s the real message.
The content of our character is pretty damn empty: success, financial and fame, prominence and importance. From the number of twitter followers to the last generation iToy to reality television to find a mate or get kicked off an island and onto the View. To walk the red carpet and show one’s fingers on the mani-cam. White Kim Kardashian may marry black Kanye West, but the content of our character is demonstrated by the fact that anyone cares about Kim Kardashian under any circumstances.
People gave their lives to pursue King’s dream, that someday people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. And we’ve proven ourselves undeserving of their sacrifice.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., thought that people, if they could only move beyond racism, were worth his efforts and life. The least we can do in remembrance of him is to try to do better with the content of our character. Or was King wrong about us, all of us, all along, and we are undeserving of his sacrifice?