In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, I’m thinking of Langston Hughes’ 1951 book of poems, Montage of a Dream Deferred. It includes “Harlem,” a short, simple masterpiece that speaks to the racial injustices people of color suffer in the United States. In the first line, Hughes wonders, “What happens to a dream deferred?”
He offers several possibilities. He first suggests that it festers and dies. Maybe, he adds, it gets crusty and sugary. He also wonders if it simply sags into oblivion. But his last option, his last option is the kicker:
“Or does it explode?” he posits.
Indeed it does, Mr. Hughes. Indeed it does, over and over and over again.
Unfortunately for the United States, many Americans can’t seem to recognize these explosions of frustration over systemic racism for what they are. They refuse to learn from history. Instead, in their eyes, as President Trump recently tweeted, this week’s protestors who are fed up with the systemic racism are nothing more than, “THUGS… dishonoring the memory of George Floyd.”
In other words, they fail to see that George Floyd’s murder is the latest lighter, but the dream deferred is the same bomb it has always been. It’s simple really, this has happened before in this country and, until systemic racism is legitimately a matter of the past, it will happen again. This is why I do not fault those protesting. This is why, though my current health issues leave me unable to stand with them, I stand with them.
In the end, as Hughes well knew, everyone has their breaking point. Or, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”