A Dream Denied

“A Dream Denied” was the title of a conference, held by the department of American Studies of Turin University on December 7th 2018 where Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson discussed “the legacy of MLK and the situation of African Americans 50 years after his assassination.” The conference included a thorough narration of the Civil War, Emancipation Declaration, with a fast forward to the 60s and Civil Rights Act under LBJ, Jim Crow laws, Voting Rights Act and the assassination of Dr. King.

The session then went through two different stages: The first where a series of statistics and graphs were presented, discussing the changes the African American community has witnessed in various arenas; in the political scene, their presence in legislative and gubernatorial bodies was presented through graphs and the delegates from the Clinton administration onwards were introduced. The social progress, social acceptance, economic progress and the educational condition was in addition presented.

The second stage, which was a criticism of the US policies, discussed how, despite all the progress that has been made over the years, the situation is still far from satisfactory and provided facts, from the recent years, in order to prove that how the steps that have been taken are being pushed back. In this regard, police brutality, incarceration, economic difficulty, lower range of assets in comparison to white citizens, educational drawbacks, employment barriers and voters’ right suppression were discussed. Black Lives Matter movement was briefly introduced and discussed. The speech was concluded marking the events unfolded in Charlottesville alt-right rally and the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue massacre.

The speech was brief, nevertheless detailed and thorough. It was well documented and fact-based. There was also enough time for the audience to join in the discussion and put forward their questions or observations.

In her observations, Professor Nelson mentioned her optimism by inviting the audience to look at a bigger scale of time and note how from being kidnapped in Africa and putting into Slavery in America, African Americans have prospered to being a senator or an entrepreneur. Moreover, she emphasized on the political apparatus of the United States which is stronger than any individual’s will so as not to be defeated by people such as Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell. She did mention the example of South Africa, where a small group of white citizens managed to dominate a black majority, and insisted upon its significance; however she mentioned that such a scenario in the US, with all the progresses so far made, is a little unrealistic to be likely. Professor Nelson also took the occasion to mention the alarming rise of the alt-right in Germany, France and Italy where she considers the Afro-Germans or Afro-Italians probably have a harder situation in Europe.

One of the most meaningful observations on Professor Nelson’s speech was made by Professor Morelli from the Social and Political Department of the University of Turin. She pointed to the fact that history should be observed in periods where periods of progress and inclusion are often followed by periods of setbacks and exclusions as those who are losing their dominance and privileges tend to fight back and reinstate them and Professor Nelson insisted on this is how progress is made.

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