Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 20, 2020
Martin Luther King, Jr was nothing less than a great inspiration to anyone interested in fighting for equal rights, equal pay, equal economic opportunity, personal and civic freedom, and equality under the law, and many other important causes, such as protesting an unjust and calamitous war, Vietnam.
Today I hope we all take a few moments to reflect upon the sacrifice of Dr. King to the struggles that remain so common in our world today, and continue to be a struggle right here in America. The struggle for equality for Black Americans is as real today as it was in 1863. There is an enormous amount of data that demonstrates and illustrates how Black Americans remain discriminated against in our society, but two numbers stand out to me: in 1863, Black Americans owned about 1% of the nation’s wealth, and in 2019, 1.5%. Aside from so much other data, such as incarceration rates and infant mortality rates, we should all understand that the basis for poverty of a singular group is no doubt based in discrimination, and we need to ask ourselves, where has progress been made?
In his excellent book, The Ethnic Myth, Stephen Steinberg wrote that Black Americans are America’s most loyal and dedicated citizens. For who among Americans have endured so much pain and suffering from discrimination than they, and yet, every day, Black Americans continue to attend school, go to work and enlist in the country’s armies as if everything is okay, from the Revolutionary war, to WWI and WWII, to Vietnam and America’s wars in the middle east, Black Americans have disproportionately given their lives for our county – without justice or equality being realized. How is it that White American political leaders have not fought for Black Americans as they have for America?
And here we are today, in the year 2020, some Whites are traveling to Virginia to start a race war. They should know this: You cannot start a race war with another race that is not competing with you for superiority. Today, Whites traveling to Virginia intent on a race war are suffering from their own terrible delusions of racial superiority; delusions that are from the darkest sides of human nature; delusions that were perpetuated by English, then American, and later German leaders in order to divide and conquer and justify horrors of slavery, genocide, or modern economic inequality.
Irish Americans should remember that they were once called the “missing link” by the English, and the prideful symbol of Notre Dame was a derogatory symbol of a drunken Irishman picking a fight at a bar before being hauled off in a “Paddy wagon” for the night. Italian Americans should remember that one President publically said was a “good thing” that 11 Italians were hung in Louisiana in 1892 after being falsely accused of rape by Whites looked at Italians as less than human. “We assimilated” and “pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps” is how Irish, Italians, and others explain their economic and civic progress in America, implying that if Blacks would work harder and become more White, then they too would be better off. But we know this to be untrue. We know that Blacks remain discriminated against regardless of how many college degrees they have, the clothes they wear, the car they drive, the house or neighborhood they live in, or dialect they speak. We know that we can do better than assimilation. We know that ethnic diversity enhances our lives from food to music and clothing to dance and general creativity to happiness. We also know that Irish, Italians and many other ethnic groups who have assimilated look back to their ancestry in later generations to form their identity today. Slavery denied that ability for Black Americans.
Ending racism and discrimination requires a conscious effort on every level of our society, from the individual to the US Congress, from our parenting and teaching, to our daily conversations and social life. Dr. King’s dream should be shared by all of us for all of us as something we aspire to in our lives, daily.