Michelle Mann | January 16, 2017
A few months ago, I was driving from Toledo, Ohio, back home to the suburbs of Chicago. Before I left, I had found a CD box set of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches in the back corner of a used record shop and thought they would make for a good companion on my five-hour journey. I started listening to the different speeches and sermons and was in awe of the brilliance of this great man. From the beginning, he had a vision and a rhetoric that inspired hope and dedication for millions of people and future generations. I was so moved that about halfway through the drive I had to pull over because I was weeping.
I was weeping in part because I was inspired and touched by his words but also because I was heartbroken — there was so much more I wished he could have said.
The mix of inspiration and sorrow set in the most when I was listening to King’s most famous address, the “I Have A Dream” speech. King eloquently reminds us of America’s founding promises and how they were remorselessly withheld from African Americans over the course of this country’s history. He advised us to consider the “fierce urgency of now.”
One of my favorite points in that speech is when he explains that black people in America were given a “bad check” from the “bank of justice,” but he refuses to believe it is bankrupt. What King did not mention is what happens when someone else’s account has not only taken all your funds but is also accruing all of the interest. King declaring that it was time for black America’s check to be written was a powerful concept, but I do not believe the check he requested was written for enough.
The check King described asks white America to grant the funds of justice and prosperity that were being taken from black people so we could be equal under the law . . . but that check did not say anything about the interest that had been swelling inside white America’s bank account. There was no memo about white privilege and America’s enduring racial order.