Why have we yet to fully realize Martin Luther King’s dream and will it ever happen?
Human tribalism is as old as humanity itself and it continues to evolve with humanity. At its core, lies human competition. Nobody wants to feel cheated out of a deserved opportunity based on some shallow or arbitrary factor. But at the same time, people are happy to take advantage of a shallow or arbitrary factor if it gives them an advantage.
If tribalism is an inherent human trait, then its safe to assume there will always be groups of people who get marginalized for one reason or another. The only question is how long will this marginalization continue to be based on arbitrary physical characteristics?
The election of Barack Obama proved that self-interest will always trump racism. The same example can be observed in professional sports. A team who wants to win will draft the players that are most likely to help them win. They are not going to draft on racial lines only to lose as a result. Thus, racism today is more about convenience. People are racist when it’s convenient for them.
In much of the developed world, race is just one of many factors people consider about a person. It is rarely the only factor like it once was. So, progress has been made as people evolve towards more efficient living. The world economy runs on money and access to resources. These resources are not limited to water, energy, and food, but also people. Having the best and brightest people at your disposal to invent, innovate and improve things is what creates wealth in business and a country.
Similar to the professional sports example, both countries and businesses value people who bring the most to the table so they can create wealth and prosperity. Groups of people who are perceived to bring less to the table will get less opportunities. And this is how racism manifests itself in the modern world. In many situations, race remains a factor people use to estimate the value a person brings. And context matters too. Racial stereotypes might still lead an employer to assume an Asian person is better at math or an African American person is more athletic when neither might actually be the case.
The belief that the genetic differences which cause people to look physically different are also a window to their mental, emotional and behavioral characteristics is what keeps racism alive. This is an easy assumption to make since people are largely a product of their environment. Those who grow up in close proximity to certain types of people will usually mirror those people in behavior and values. Only when exposed to a more appealing alternative will people abandon the “stereotypical” behavior their culture taught them.
The problem with using genetics as an argument to promote racism is genetics go beyond race. Within the same racial group there is too much variation to claim a particular ability or lack of ability is “always true” for people of a certain race. Thus, stereotypes are never completely true, which is why they are called stereotypes and not facts.
For racism to completely end, things like tribalism and groupthink have to end. In order for tribalism and groupthink to end, competition between other people has to end. As long as people have to compete with each other, they will utilize whatever advantages they can get. This will always lead to alliances between certain groups of people forming in order to dominate or win over another group.
Even in very small groups of people, there is still competition for status based on various factors. Different racial groups continue to be given different levels of “social status”. And this goes back to the belief that a person’s race is a window to the value they can bring to a situation. As long as that belief persists, racism will never end.
Will the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. ever be realized? To some extent it already has. But it’s unlikely humanity will ever lose the desire to compete. When people lose interest in sports, maybe they will lose interest in race too.