Sunday, March 3, 2013

If Martin Luther King Jr. were still alive…

By: Delonte Harrod 

Black History month is always, at least for me, a great context to reflect upon Dr. Martin Luther King and the history of liberators in our country. I was reminded of this in a conversation with a friend about the Civil Rights movement. From that conversation, I began to ponder: would MLK’s message be relevant in today’s context?

Through the 50s and 60s King, along with the African-American community, desired equality. The Civil Rights movement was a burning flame against the blatant injustices in those times. Men and women sat in at white-only diners while refusing to go through the back doors just to receive nourishment for their bodies. They refused to drink at only Negro water fountains. To put economic strain on white-dominated public transportation, they boycotted. They marched, they spoke-out; they were a force to be reckoned with. Instead of being obedient to America’s splintered morality, they disobeyed.

To some, their tactics were seen as radical nonetheless they struggled alongside others in their fight for freedom. But this fight for freedom was filled with much bloodshed and grief: churches were bombed, sons and daughters lost their parents and parents lost their children. Men, women and students were jailed for announcing their humanity to the world. They suffered while singing Negro spirituals!

With this passion, King led part of his community, (not all African-Americans agreed with King see the Nation of Islam) and the nation, to Washington D.C. In 1963, African-Americans whites, Jews and gentiles marched in unity to publicly proclaim their freedom within the bosom of the enemy. With the voice of a trumpet, King so eloquently said,

“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of light hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

Yet, I think, these words carry just as much weight now as they did then. While some may disagree, we live in a nation where some people are under the illusion that we are post-racial. That is, racial issues and discrimination (based on color) is pre-historic—something of the past! It is my opinion; it is the agenda of some to try to move the nation past the conversation of color and ethnic discrimination. If so, I can understand. It is human nature to want to move past lingering problems. Race in America is a very sensitive subject. People become defensive, friendships can be lost and, sometimes, mutual respect flies out the window. Therefore, what better to do than to try to create an illusion, via narrative, that racism just doesn't exist anymore!

In truth, violent acts against non-whites are rarely reported in the mainstream media. There is the occasional black face [white people painting their faces black] or someone bringing a noose [a rope used in America by whites to hang African-Americans] to school! In my opinion, these are the exception.

In Blind Sight 

By this blindness to racial and ethnic discrimination, one can contend that racism or racist attitudes do not exist anymore. If one is referring to officers of the law allowing dogs to bite, in order to reprimand African-Americans, jailing of black men and women for fighting for a right to be a full-fledged American citizen; mass demonstration by people holding up signs “We are Men.” No, that’s not happening! And, I haven’t seen anything like that in the last twenty years, but I am only 32! However, that does not mean racism has ended. It means that we are not paying attention and sometimes journalists do a poor job of reporting it. There are plenty of articles in the media—maybe not mainstream—that speak of the systemic problem of racism within a variety of government entities. For example,

In 2012, Harper Magazine featured an article, The Last Tower: The decline and fall of Public Housing. Journalist Ben Austen describes the complex relationship between the residents of Cabrini-Green and the city of Chicago and its Housing Authority.

“Chicago’s projects were underfunded and poorly maintained almost from the start. He continues, “The ratio of children to adults in these developments was ruinously high, and well-intentioned laws regarding maximal allowable income for public-housing residents ultimately forced out the most stable rent payers in the population,” writes Austen.

Housing discrimination is not the only area in which people of color are oppressed. In The Washington Post Beth Jacobson, a former Wells Fargo Bank employee, admitted she “processed loans for home owners with sterling credit ratings and higher interest rates than they needed to pay.” She acknowledged Wells Fargo intentionally targeted African-Americans in the city of Baltimore and a Washington D.C. suburb-- Prince Georges County. She goes on to say she “pumped out millions of dollars in mortgages to people with no paperwork and low incomes, becoming Wells Fargo’s top-producing loan officer.”

Like African Americans, Latinos have also faced discrimination. The University of California conducted a study, in which they concluded, that schools in certain parts of America are being re-segregated. According to the Civil Rights Project, “The typical Latino student in the region attends a school where less than a quarter of their classmates are white; nearly two-thirds are other Latinos; and two-thirds are poor.”

Juan Gonzalez, host of Democracy Now, and Joseph Torres co-authored the book, News for All People. In it they outline the history of media for minorities. According to Gonzalez, “the media system has never been a free market system.” They say when media conglomerates monopolize the Internet there is no free flow of information. Torres said when this happens minorities don’t get to tell their own stories but others tell them. The National Association of Black Journalists exists to sensitize “all media to the importance of fairness in the workplace for black journalists” (a principle from their website).

Contrary to popular belief, there still is racism in the African-American community. The Nation of Islam, a largely African-American religious sect that began in 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad, is inflamed with racism. The organization is strictly for the flourishing of African-Americans—no one else. By logical deduction white people and any other race are excluded. In addition, the Hebrew Israelites (a religious sect similar to the Nation Islam) believes they are the true Jewish people.

According to them, white people have been lying to African-Americans about their history. They see themselves as the true messianic people of God hoping to restore Native Americans, Latino and African-Americans to their true identity. In other words, they haven’t revealed to them they’re the true Israelites. These types of theologies are damaging; they do not advance the health and well being of the African-American community. Instead, they promote ideologies of victimization and the seed of un-forgiveness.

Classism in the African-American contexts exists because it is a culturally consciously-blinded practice. Therefore, because we are all, to a large degree, cultural practitioners then it is perfectly normally to look at someone with disdain because they’re not in a specific economic class. There was a time when white flight (white people living the city for the suburbs) was normal—now black flight is a normal. “There is classism within the black community…Middle-class blacks, like middle-class whites, are also put off by the behavior of impoverished blacks who have developed their own culture, one that is very different from mainstream America,” wrote Sheryll Cashin, Professor of Law at Georgetown University, in article in The Root.

What would King say?

Still, we have not answered the question of ‘what would Kings say?’ Well, I don’t know what he would say exactly, but we can thank those who take the time to preserve some of King’s letters, speeches and videos. However, I do think, through these mediums of communication, King has left us with a framework in which we can think. Ultimately, I believe, King was a champion of reconciliation. He wanted those invisible barriers of intolerance to be torn down; he wanted people to love each other; he wanted the incarnate flesh of white superiority to submit to the idea of equality amongst all people. Because racism and injustice permeates every edge of our society and culture—he would have something to say to us all.

From the MLK holiday to Black History Month, people have often used King’s speeches—because they are so powerful and packed with imagery—to further their causes. But, the very people that use them are the very people to whom King was talking! Let us not forget that any place where injustice was tolerated in any form was an enemy to King and those who sacrificed their lives in Civil Rights Movement. Let us be reminded of the words of a Civil Rights Leader:

“It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”


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