Has Martin Luther King’s dream been realised?

University of Western Sydney race critical scholar Dr Alana Lentin will this week take part in a debate with politicians and academics from America and England to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech.

On 28 August in 1963, civil rights campaigners marched on Washington to secure equality before the law, and Martin Luther King's speech to a quarter of a million supporters is widely regarded as a defining moment in America's civil rights movement.

To celebrate the anniversary of this seminal moment in history, the online debate series Versus is bringing together five global voices in London to discuss Dr. King's legacy in a debate streamed online.

To what extent has his dream been realised? Are Muslims now the new targets of racism post-9/11? And will racism still be blighting us in 50 years time?

Dr Lentin will appear at the debate via videolink, and joining her will be Former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, Ron Christie, British Member of Parliament David Lammy Associate Professor Sohail Daulatzai from the University of California and celebrated writer and dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

Dr Lentin says following the election of Barack Obama, the idea that we are 'post-race' means that racism goes unnoticed.

"Racism is socially and politically taboo, but discrimination persists and is arguably deeper than ever, not only between the privileged and the exploited within any one country, but internationally between the economically and militarily powerful and the poorer nations," says Dr Lentin.

"Martin Luther King has been transformed into an American hero, but this belies his increasing radicality, his growing commitment to social justice, and moreover his growing internationalism especially with regards US involvement in Vietnam towards the end of his life."

"Beyond the USA, it is important to reclaim MLK's message and its relevance to racialized people across the western world and the Global South."

Dr Lentin says it is interesting to note how many column inches are begin generated by the commemoration of the speech, yet there has been a failure to tie the message of both Dr King's words and the context in which he was speaking - the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom - to contemporary inequality.

"For example, in Australia there should be an explicit link drawn to the disproportionate incarceration of Aboriginal people relative to their numbers among the population," she says.

"Dr King's message was a call for solidarity, of recognition of difference and discrimination, and the choice not to abandon the other even if her life experience differs vastly to our own."

"In light of the current unity across the right and the left of the political spectrum in Australia against asylum seekers, we would do well to remember that the Martin Luther King we celebrate this week called for empathy, and empathy requires recognising the other's difference, yet choosing to stand with them," says Dr Lentin.

Dr Alana Lentin is a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis in the Institute for Culture and Society, the author of The Crises of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Age, and a contributor to The Guardian newspaper.

Programmed by leading debate forum Intelligence Squared, Versus is the first ever live global debate series using Google+ Hangouts and livestreamed on YouTube.

Follow the discussion on Twitter using the hastag #VsMLK.


27 August 2013

Contact: Mark Smith, Media Officer

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