MLK & Racial Inequality: State of the Dream

I cried three times yesterday.

Once, at historic nature of President Obama’s second inaugural address. Listening to him, I was seized by an enormous feeling of pride. Proud at the collective struggle required and achieved, all bound up in his re-election, pride in his personal achievements, as this battle has been hard fought. I can only applaud his perseverance, strength and determination, it is nothing short of inspirational considering the forces working against him.

My pride was multi-dimensional, for as I looked at him, I felt strongly that his place in the world is a shining example of what change times has wrought. I could feel a heavenly chorus of my ancestors applauding him, for he is the living embodiment of a long line of bloody human sacrifices, strife and struggle.

I do not have to invoke the names of Martin Luther, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, Sojourner Truth, or Nat Turner, all of whom are a drop in the ocean of humanity that made this moment possible. But I invoke them anyway because to say their names fills me with love, respect and power. They’d probably be the first to say that they were but the righteous arm of justice… Of progress.

So yesterday, my heart could not help but remember the nameless slaves who died waiting for salvation; those who were beaten bloody as they fought for freedom, my Great Grandmother included, and those who had the strength of character to continue standing long after their spirits should have been broken. The Everyman and woman without whom I would not be who I am today.

And just as I grappled with the largeness of those thoughts, Richard Blanco read his inaugural poem, One Today, which echoed many of my thoughts. We are, no matter our own individual strivings, the culmination of ancestral hopes, dreams and efforts, which brought on a second wave of happy tears.

I am truly happy that this moment occurred in my lifetime.

Many hours later, watching a special on MLK, I wept a final time in recognition of all that remains to be done.

President Obama, as I continually point out to all whom will listen, is not a civil rights leader. He wears the mantle of president and works well in the confines and dictates of his office. He’s been accused of not taking up the mantle for the poor and not speaking directly to the issues of African Americans which is largely true.

However, that truth sits inside another one. You can’t voice that without recognition of his position. I believe that his silence is not a falling of conscience, but mostly due to the politicization and polarization that still surrounds race in America. His seeming unwillingness to confront the myriad issues head on underscore the limitations of his reach as an American president. “Past is Prologue.”

You might be thinking, African Americans no longer need a civil rights leader. After all the progress that has been made, what for? I know you’re probably a bootstrap-believer-type. If so, you probably think we don’t need Affirmative Action anymore either. Look at Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Samuel L. Jackson and Tiger Woods, to name a few. There is a long list of highly, visible celebrities who are…

NOT in the least bit indicative of the average African American.

In matters of racism, it’s best to rely on facts and barring that, the personal experience of those who fall victim to it. Opinions are not facts and if you are thinking some version of the above, you should know the statistics do NOT bear you out.

These days, people love to argue about why African Americans still talk about slavery and racism. *sigh* Frequently, we are accused of “race baiting” when we, or anyone else armed with a few facts, dares to mention the R word.

Ponder if you will the following statistics:

– The African American unemployment rate is 13.2%, higher than any other ethnic group. It has been twice that of Whites for the last 60 years. Check out this video by the Coalition for Change.
– Of the 2.3 million incarcerated Americans, approx. 1 million are African American incarcerated. . Statistically speaking, every minority in America is more likely to be incarcerated than their White counterparts.
– African American home ownership is 44.8%, at it’s lowest level in 16 years, compared to Whites at 74.1%. Home ownership is one of the single biggest indicators of the middle class.

See the following link for The State of the Dream 2013 by United for a Fair Economy.

The statistics speak of a systemic inequality that can’t be overcome on a strictly, individual level. It is illustrative of institutional racism. It may even speak to ongoing, pervasive feeling of devaluation by African Americans. The one thing most people seem most unwilling to grapple with is the psychological effects of racism, yet they are absolutely germane to discussions on race.

The statistics show that while inequality has, arguably, changed on it’s face, it is still alive and well. To fight that on myriad fronts, we need a leader outside the constraints of politics, who will serve as a marshaling force, inspire a movement. A movement that will wake us up and bring us together collectively to fight for changes that are sorely needed, within and without. More progress. More action. More eradication of injustice. Only then will the majority be able to reach for a dream that is full of their God-given potential as human beings. Then, our ancestors could truly be at peace. #happythankyoumoreplease

“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

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2 thoughts on “MLK & Racial Inequality: State of the Dream”

  1. Absolutely loved this, Coco. I thought it was Obama’s best speech yet. How interesting that you point out he’s not really a civil rights leader. Clearly that’s right, he’s President and you can’t really fill both roles and do both well.

    The fact that he spoke on the birthday of MLK almost seemed like fate. What a moment. Loved hearing about your Great Grandmother. She was one of many heroes who suffered and as a result showed Americans what we must never become again.

    I think (pardon my clunky articulation here) he has initiated a new type of civil rights, where he wants us to move into a new era. I loved his note that we didn’t overcome the tyranny of the throne just to be victims to the tyranny of a mob. And I just thought of those nutbags with their guns screaming for their “rights”.

    I could have listened to him talk about our forests and snow capped mountains all day. I only hope he can grasp the complex idea that the atmosphere can end humanity. It might be the most difficult but vital concept any president has ever faced.

    1. Hi Amelie,

      Thank you, you always make such wonderful and smart comments.

      Wasn’t it wonderful? A perfect confluence of events. That kind of alignment is rare. I believe they said that MLK day and the inauguration has only happened once before. The historic nature of the speech was phenomenal. How wonderful that he he chose that moment to be decidedly center left, fully inclusive of so many who have been “othered” by the majority and spoke of climate change to boot.

      And yes, that is a complex idea to grasp and one which seems to be unthinkable to many. It is one of the greatest challenges of our times. I hope that, collectively, we are able to rise to the occassion.

      Enjoy your week,

      C.

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