This MLK Day I see a nation standing at the crossroads. The horrible deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and too many other people of color at the hands of the police have prompted the biggest protests against racism that I have seen in my lifetime. Also for the first time in my life, the creeping hand of the prison-industrial complex is being challenged, and those challenges are beginning to get broader traction. At the same time, hardline conservatives have taken over Congress and an unprecedented number of statehouses, benefitting from white backlash and racial resentment in the process. The mayor of New York dares to discuss the reality of racist policing, and is met with unprecedented revolt and disrespect from his officers. Something will have to give.
Lots of people are going to see reenactments of the Selma March in the theaters right now, but the present is just as crucial as the past. There is a growing recognition, one pretty obvious for people of color, much less so for whites, that the efforts of Dr. King and others in the 1960s were not the end of the story, but the beginning. Barack Obama's election was supposed to be proof of a "post-racial" society, when in reality the hateful reception he has received in many quarters has proven rather starkly that such claims of a post-racial nation were completely wrong.
Will that knowledge be acted upon? Will new change come? I honestly don't know, but what I do know is that I cannot remember a time in my life when the possibility for racism to be pushed back was this palpable. I know plenty of young people who are getting conscious, getting active and taking to the streets, and they give me the hope that the legacy of Dr. King will not be one of greeting card sentiments, but as an inspiration for future generations to further the work he began.