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In mainstream American minds, Dr. King’s legacy has been truncated to a sound byte ripped of its context: judging not by the color of one’s skin, but by the content of one’s character*—familiar refrain employed to challenge restorative measures among other things. The “fierce urgency of Now” has been conveniently forgotten, the warning against gradualism has been turned upon its head. Jim Crow was the most familiar and identifiable form of American injustice—but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface  lurked the bulk of the malignant growth of nearly 400 yearsfestering police brutalityhousing discriminationvoter disenfranchisement.  These, too, were in King’s message, yet are seldom evoked when people recall “I Have a Dream”. To the contrary, today they are justified by such rhetoric as “the war on drugs”, “personal preference”, and “election integrity”.

But injustice is not unique to America. Although the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world, including China and Russia, and we also try children as young as 13 as adults and sentence them to life in prison without parole, global incarceration rates don’t account for those tortured and killed extrajudicially or simply “disappeared“. Basic shelter and housing needs continue to plague both refugee and citizen around the world. And though American military prowess steadily exports democracy, political protests continue to demonstrate that the much of the world still yearns for governments that represent the needs and voices of the people.

So as the U.S. commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movement of justice he inspired, we cannot indulge in “cooling off” because separate but equal is no longer legal. We cannot pat ourselves on the back because we elected a Black man as President. We are not at the end of fighting for justice here and abroad, but at the beginning. Continue reading