i spent a fair amount of time today reflecting on the legacy of martin luther king jr. given my relatively rudimentary knowledge of his life, he's as much a symbol to me as an actual man. but his vision, his courage, his willingness to risk, his sacrifices -- and that of all those he represents -- inspire, challenge, and even (in a healthy way) shame me.
among the things i contemplated today was this newsweek photo essay entitled "segregation nation." it's an interesting composition, in particular for the ways it contrasts america's racist past with its present. imo, it paints a pretty optimistic picture of how much has changed -- too optimistic, if you ask me.
it's hard to disagree that progress has been made. when the secretary of state and a leading presidential candidate are black americans, when there's oprah and tiger and clarence thomas, you figure that some things have changed. still, there's enough that routinely happens in the u.s. that it's hard to declare "mission accomplished." some it is personal, serious, and deadly; some of it is structural. some of it reveals the on-going stupidity and ignorance that makes the other kinds of racism possible (for a sample, take a look here.).
i wrote about these issues at length this summer after our visit to the king national historic site in atlanta (find the post here), so i won't go over that ground again. but on the holiday that honors king's life and work, it's appropriate to ask: how much progress have we made toward making america a nation where all people have equal opportunity, and where people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character? in 2008, is that a goal for which we are willing to commit substantial resources and make serious sacrifices?