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Today the United States of America (USA) observes Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday as a Federal Holiday. Though his birthday is January 15th, the holiday is celebrated on the third Monday, and were he alive he would have been 92. The life of this civil rights icon, whom many around the world venerate, is one of determination to make the world a better place even if it meant having to live with the constant fear, he could meet an untimely death.
As the world watches on at the turmoil in the USA, resulting from the 2020 presidential election that not only saw President Donald Trump losing office but incoming Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, King’s famous “I have a dream” speech resonates. That speech, held on the Washington DC Mall in August 1963, was a call to the powers that be that the time is now for economic and civil rights and an end to racism. The USA continues to grapple with these defects.
Racism is raising its ugly head, given oxygen by President Trump who not only promoted racist policies but showed easy comfort supporting white supremacists. He sought to criminalise Mexicans migrants by calling them rapists and end the DACA Programme, implemented by President Barack Obama, that allowed Dreamers (children born in the USA to parents residing illegally) to live and work free from fear of being deported.
President Trump entered the political spotlight on a sustained campaign to delegitimise America’s first black president, Barack Obama, on a lie that he was not born in the USA but Kenya, Africa where his father is from. He created opportunities for white supremacy to return in mainstream society without fear of rebuke. To him they are “good people” and people of colour are from “sh..hole countries.”
He not only moved to reduce immigration into the USA from societies of colour but placed a travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries. President Trump embodied the worst fears in vulnerable groups- coloured and religious minorities, including Jews. His presidency made them feel they were not a part of American society or would ever get the opportunity to live the American Dream.
His defeat at the poll laid bare for the world to see the hatred and intolerance that have shaped his presidency, took him to the White House, and his belief that he could only lose an election because it must be fraudulent. It needs not be repeated the horrors, including deaths, the USA suffered since November. Suffice to say King’s dream for a better, more inclusive America seems elusive during the Trump presidency.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Harris’ victory not only offered hope for better days. The victory proves even in a racist society there are still many who hold dear the self-evident creed all are created equal and people “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Their victory represents a fulfilment of King’s dream of character trumping colour (race).
While black Americans played a pivotal role, which should not be ignored or unrepresented, it would not have been possible without white America. This is what is so riling up the other section of white America society that a colour person could think much less achieve such a high position.
Mr. Biden has been dealt a tough hand and his pledge to “restore the soul of America” not made easier. He is inheriting a presidency where the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has been poorly managed by President Trump, an economy cratering, racial anger and injustice, widening gap between the rich and poor, high unemployment, and a criminal justice system needing reform.
Guyanese have relations in the USA. They are concerned about the hate, dispossession and violence occurring in that society because they know in a hostile environment their loved ones are unsafe and cannot realise their dreams. These are scary times in America. A time King lived through, which saw his life cut down at age 39 by the bullet of an assassin, a person of hate.
On the eve of the swearing in of the new president and vice president, King’s dream reverberates-“one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood….[that] even … a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”
Thankfully, on King’s birthday, it is proven not even Trump cannot kill his “dream” for a better society.