Sunday, October 16, 2011


Today is the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and, of course, the only thing that too many Americans seem to know about this great man – his “I Have a Dream” speech –- is on full display as the national narrative for this event is being woven by media and participants.

Looking at and listening to the dedications and speeches and remembrances, I admit that, rather than feeling pleasure and pride, I am feeling sadness and pure panic:

• Panic that this dedication will be yet another reason -- for Americans who are always looking for reasons -– to say “okay, let’s now ignore racial disparities! This is more proof that we are ‘post racial’! And anyone who says otherwise is a race-baiter and a racist!”;

• Panic that we will forget the economic realities of living Black in America: that the unemployment rate for African Americans is the highest that it has been in 27 years at 16.2% (when the total national unemployment rate stands at 9.1%);

• Panic that as a country we continue to demonize African Americans as thugs and criminals – even those as young as 8 years old! -- instead of correcting a system that encourages gross disparities in the sentencing and imprisonment of Black men, and increasingly Black women, and that feels no shame or remorse about their state-sanctioned killing even when there is reasonable doubt supporting their innocence;

• Panic that we live in a country that is okay with disparities that disproportionately impact African Americans, whether economic, legal, educational, health and well-being, and in just about every systemic indicator of health and life in America.

How can this country –- who now professes to love the Reverend Doctor King as a great man, a great AMERICAN, for all they tormented and demonized him when he was alive – not know any of his other writings that so clearly address the economic disparities and other issues that we are so tragically facing now?

How can this country ignore with clear conscious the increasing and racialized gap between rich and poor? And how can we say that we adhere to the great man’s message when the two most media-prominent mobilizations –- the tea party and the “occupy” movements –- are majority white and acting out of all the privileges of that whiteness?

As much as my heart might want, celebrating today as progress for “The Dream” seems more of a matter of celebrating symbol over substance. But too many Americans are living in this on-going racialized nightmare, which this country seems determined to ignore, for that to happen.

In Dr. King’s last book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos to Community” (New York: Harper and Row, 1967) he said:

“Let us take a look at the size of the problem through the lens of the Negro’s status in 1967. When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was 60% of a person. Today another curious formula seems to declare that he is 50% of a person. Of the good things in life he has approximately one-half those of whites; of the bad he has twice those of whites. Thus half of all Negroes live in substandard housing, and Negroes have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share. There are twice as many unemployed. The rate of infant mortality (widely accepted as an accurate index of general health) among Negroes is double that of whites.”

Forty-four (44) years later, for all that we acknowledge changes, let’s at least have the courage to admit that not much has changed on that score. And for all the symbolism of his memorial now being on the National Mall, neither has the following (which Dr. King also noted in 1967):

"Depressed living standards for Negroes are not simply the consequences of neglect. Nor can they be explained by the myth of the Negro's innate incapacities, or by the more sophisticated rationalization of his acquired infirmities. They are a structural part of the economic system in the United States."

Now why don’t we hear more about THOSE Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes?

And most importantly, why are we not doing anything about these structural issues?

If Americans are REALLY interested in achieving “The Dream”, they first need to acquire the will to address our on-going national, racialized nightmare.

Moving Forward,