The similarities between Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham” and President Obama’s “A more Perfect Union” speech are quite staggering. And both, though largely set within the context of racial relations in the United States, are very much applicable to matters including race and so much more. The content of both go beyond race and advocate for simple matters of love, acceptance, and understanding because those are the mechanisms that will heal this country. Both authors call for unity. Dr. King sates, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. And President Obama states, “we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we prefect our union by understanding that we may have different stores, but we hold common hopes”. Unity as a country will heal the wounds of injustice. Whatever divides us as humans is not as great as what connects us.
In coming together under the same understanding that we are all human, we can move forwards and eradicate racism, sexism, and homophobia. I think both men would agree that the denial of rights and acceptance to one group taints the freedoms and privileges of all other peoples. Both Dr. King and President Obama emphasize how much potential this country has to be even better than what it is. This country has the forum needed to improve the lives of the marginalized built into its very constitution, all that is needed is for people of every background to come together and peaceably fight for the freedom of all. There is sacrifice in this; there is no doubt about that. Dr. King remarks that, “it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture but…groups tend to be more immoral than individuals”. Recognizing and fighting for equal human rights and privileges (which is what Dr. King’s movement was essentially about) may involve many sacrifices such as being alienated, further marginalized, dismissed, having hateful slurs throw at you, and sometimes even ending up in jail. But the prison and confinement of discrimination is so much worse for the humanity of this nation. And just as Dr. King fought for the soul of this nation, we must do the same.
I have heard many times that this country was not ready for a black president, that this country is not ready for a woman president, that this country is not ready for same-sex marriages. And to them I echo the words of Dr. King, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts of men (and women) willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation”. It could be argued that some privileged groups were not (and are still not) ready for the end of the Jim Crow era, but where would our country be if we waited for them to be ready? We would still be toiling under the oppression of an unequal society. President Obama speaks to the same effect in his speech He says we cannot treat this country as if it is static, as if it is not moving forward; because this country is slowly moving forward. “America can change…that is the true genius of this nation”. These words give me hope for a brighter tomorrow. And these words give me even greater hope, “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right”.
In the end, we must not get bogged down in pettiness. People who endeavor so thoroughly to prevent the change this nation so badly desires cannot distract us. What I take away from both of these messages is the age-old adage that President Obama echoes in his speech, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is our humanity and the love and acceptance of others that will repair us and bring us together into a better nation. Dr. King’s dream has come a long way; his world is no longer the world we live in. But as President Obama said, we still have so much to do; we can still strive to do so much better. It is the words of both these men that give me hope that it can be done. And I know that it will be done. Because love is so much greater than hate.