“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. I have a dream…”
Those words were spoken by Martin Luther King during the American Civil Rights movement when he addressed the American people in Washington D.C. on August 28th, 1963. As a testament to the values and ideals behind those words, numerous memorials and institutions have immortalized those words, with the lobby of the Erb Memorial Union at the University of Oregon being one such institution.
However, students at the University of Oregon have recently questioned whether this quote is representative of them today. The argument is that diversity is more than just about race and that Martin Luther King’s speech only focuses on the racial aspect of equality without encompassing all other considerations. So should there instead be a quote that is more inclusive and more representative of all the diversity found in humanity today?
Martin Luther King was a leader of the American Civil Rights movement and thus, his speech focused on racial equality. However, the core message of his speech was still one of equality for all people and not just on the grounds of race. Quotes like the one immortalized by the University of Oregon demonstrate how the core message of the speech was about equality for all. The dream to have one’s children not be judged by the color of their skin is an example that could also apply to a child’s religion, gender, and sexuality. Indeed, at the end of his speech, Martin Luther King spoke of how he wished for freedom and equality for all of God’s children, “black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics”. His words espoused ideals of tolerance and equality for all. To object to it on the grounds that it was focused on racial equality instead of equality on every possible category is ludicrous.
As noted by the Campus Newspaper, the previous quote occupying the space at the Erb Memorial Union had also been replaced on similar grounds. The words were those of the Dean of Administrative Emeritus, William C. Jones, who spoke on the aspirations and good life of all men. Students found that the word “men” which was shorthand for mankind, was dated and not inclusive. When the Dean himself was approached about changing the wording of the quote, he shut down the idea and responded by saying that he was unwilling to “give hostage to ignorance”. To note, Martin Luther King’s speech also spoke of equality between black men and white men. He spoke of dreaming of a day when “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood”.
Does his use of the words “men”, “sons”, and “brotherhood” mean he didn’t care about black women or the rights of his daughters? Of course not. When he spoke of sons and brotherhood, he was painting an example of a hoped for future of equality. When he used the words “all men”, he meant all mankind, all people. Both black people and white people. The use of the word man to refer to men, mankind and people in general is just a foible of the English language. In other languages such as those from the East, men is literally translated into “male people” and women translated to “female people”, similar to black people and white people. If America predominantly spoke one of those languages instead of English, this would be a complete non-issue.
The words spoken by Martin Luther King on that day were ones which championed equality for all. People categorize themselves in myriads of different ways, whether through race, gender, belief systems or sexual orientation. To feel slighted that a particular quote from an entire speech did not include every one of those categories is quite frankly selfish and childish.
An adult mature person would look at the words spoken by Martin Luther King and acknowledge the struggles for equality during the civil rights movement and understand that those struggles would also apply to all issues of equality in our present age. They should not go around finding offense in every quote on every memorial that was not inclusive to their own categorization and then lobby for its replacement. They should not go through life painting themselves as a victim at every opportunity. They should especially not paint themselves as a victim of non-inclusiveness of a quote that in its essence, was espousing equality for all humanity.
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