The speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. constantly remind me why we need to find peace, even to this day. Barack Obama’s latest speech on race invoked those sort of images from past civil rights leaders (and probably planned in many ways), while even Condoleeza Rice, a woman I’ve been very critical of, spoke up about issues of race in this country and how the legacy of this bias continues to divide us. People like Lou Dobbs and Jason Whitlock who say that race is no longer a conversation or is a conversation that no longer matters these days usually misspeak and confound even themselves, proving just how entrenched these biases are. We even get some people who call educated and well-versed Blacks and Latinos “articulate,” most of whom mean well, but a few of them who say that word with a bit of surprise, as if we’re part of some group of savages.
And MLK wasn’t the first to address these issues, nor the first to address racial inequalities, or the first to protest and preach non-violence ever. But he was the truest embodiment of the double consciousness that Blacks in this country, the understanding that we are all Americans, but within the United States, Blacks are second-class citizens bonded together by a common experience. Unlike his brethren in the struggle, he didn’t want to divide America, or make a separate Black nation, undeniably speaking out on issues of national concern for all. But his primary objective was to address the racial inequalities in this country. He didn’t just want us to hold hands in a circle and sing “Kumbaya”; he wanted institutional restitution and true integration.
Fast-forward to today, and while we have a day off for the man, we still go into war needlessly. We speak up about issues, but fear our government to the point where many of us won’t protest on a local, state, or national level against these injustices. We still find ourselves enamored with King, but some of us hold our bags and purses tightly to ourselves when a Black person walks by, and find every excuse in the book to not hire someone whose background is different from ours because we don’t want to sound racist. King helped the government realize that we need racial integration in this country in different institutions, but we still see the segregation in our schools, in our homes, and in many of the statistics dealing with poverty, employment, college matriculation, infant mortality, hospital quality, immigration, and the prison industrial complex.
While I do think that many underrepresented people have made huge strides in fields where we had no one to represent us, the general populace tends to fall into the trap of visual synecdoche, where one person or a small group of people represent the whole of the population from whence they came. For example, people see Jay-Z, Barack Obama, or Oprah Winfrey and think “See? Racial equality is here. No more need to discuss it.” Yet, that’s really a subtle way of saying “OK, no more. I can’t take any more of them on the screen.”
It’s disgraceful really. For all my discussions of racial inequality, I also fall somewhere in the spectrum of the racial integration arguments. I don’t believe in assimilation, but I also see the potential for much greater unity amongst everyone here. Yet, the institution set in place often hinders said progress. The subtleness of suggesting for instance that affirmative action has no place in America anymore is ludicrous since it was that set of policies that forcibly encouraged America to hire people regardless of our perceived divisions.
America, we have a long way to go. Let’s find the solutions to these inequalities and, then, let’s be the solution. Let’s make dreams into realities. 40 years ago, MLK died, calling America to task on its many indiscretions. 40 years from now, what will that generation think of how we responded?
jose, who reminisces over you, my G_d …
p.s. – Tomorrow, I’ll have a little inspirational post and answer some of your questions.