Evaluating the Dream

A Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Teach-in, held on January 25, allowed for reflection and discussion on the actualities of racism in the American landscape.

A RESOUNDING “no!” in Pitzer College's Founders Room was enough to make one wonder who had the audacity to ask if America has overcome racism and actualized the hope of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Each of the speakers exposed facets of unactualized kinetic potential in American racial attitudes from the perils of anger to the court system, from recognition of women to the power of individuals to advance change.

The discussion began with Professor Emerita Agnes Moreland Jackson noting that America is moving in the right direction, but we have not overcome, and it does not seem likely that we will. “I cry every time I try to sing ‘we shall overcome,’” Jackson admitted. “It is rooted in the belief that we won't overcome.” She hopes others will find ways to fight the sickness of U.S. culture without becoming overwhelmed with rage. She has opted to stand in truth, and asks others to do the same.

Assistant Professor of Sociology Erich Steinman pointed out that the courts have rescinded their offer to be an ally to the cause of racial equality. The Supreme Court now allows racist action as long as it does not mention race, but forbids race-conscious remedies designed to counteract racial inequality. Steinman noted that the Court in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District (2007) turned the historical ruling in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education on its head, adding that “This is not the colorblind society King was fighting for.”

The importance of grassroots work and women’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement was highlighted by Maria Soldatenko, professor of Gender and Feminist Studies and Chicana Studies. Particularly she focused on the efforts of civil rights activist Ella Baker, “I want us to remember the women who participated and really critically look at how Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated today.”

Soldatenko and José Calderón, professor of sociology and Chicano Studies, wanted to celebrate King as a radical thinker who opposed the Vietnam War and aligned himself with the struggles of Third World people around the world against the U.S. empire. “Today there is something happening with people saying ‘we want change.’ It is similar to the Civil Rights Movement,” Calderón said. He added that movements produce leaders that best espouse its needs. Calderón identified in particular the need for reform in many aspects of present day culture. “Martin Luther King symbolizes the type of leadership needed today.”

—JESSICA SCHWARTZ '08