America’s survival rests on undoing the exploitation of Black people
“When I speak of integration, I don’t mean a romantic mixing of colors. I mean a real sharing of power and responsibility. We will eventually achieve this, but it is going to be much more difficult for us than for any other minority. After all, no other minority has been so constantly, brutally and deliberately exploited. But because of this very exploitation, Negroes bring a special spiritual and moral contribution to American life — a contribution without which America could not survive.”
— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Testament of Hope,” (1969)
By Charles Hallman
When Barack Obama was first elected U.S. president in 2008, some declared this the beginning of America’s post-racial age. A similar declaration was made over 40 years ago as well.
According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 1,469 Black elected officials were elected in 1970, including nine U.S. House members and one U.S. senator. There are today over 10,500 Black elected officials in the U.S., including one state representative and two state senators in the Minnesota Legislature, reports the Washington, D.C.-based public policy and research group that focuses on issues that concern Blacks and other people of color.
“There is strong statistical evidence that politics is resegregating,” especially in the Southern states, “with African Americans once again excluded from power and representation. Black voters and elected officials have less influence now than at any time since the Civil Rights era,” noted a Joint Center report.
Just as some thought that America’s first Black president would move this country forward in full integration at all levels of society, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. decades ago warned that electing a Black man or woman, or passing landmark legislation isn’t enough to produce such an effect. In his essay published posthumously in 1969, a year after his death, Dr. King pointed out, “I’m sure that most Whites felt that with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, all race problems were automatically solved. Because most White people are so far removed from the life of the average Negro, there has been little to challenge this assumption.”
Dr. King also noted in his essay that the “abrasion between the races is far more evident…” and strongly argued against “the fervent idealism of the White liberals,” which too often ignores “the cold realities of the struggle for [racial] justice.” As a result, Dr. King pushed for “real” integration:
“When I speak of integration,” he continued, “I don’t mean a romantic mixing of colors. I mean a real sharing of power and responsibility. We will eventually achieve this, but it is going to be much more difficult for us than for any other minority. After all, no other minority has been so constantly, brutally and deliberately exploited. But because of this very exploitation, Negroes bring a special spiritual and moral contribution to American life — a contribution without which America could not survive.”
Racial polarization exists today in ways similar to that which Dr. King argued against. A 2011 Joint Center research brief stated, “The 46 year transition from a multiracial Democratic political dominance to a White conservative Republican political dominance in most southern states is almost complete. And since conservative Whites control all the power in the region, they are enacting legislation both neglectful of the needs of African Americans and other communities of color (in health care, in education, in criminal justice policy) as well as outright hostile to them, as in the assault on voting rights through photo identification laws and other means.”
Over four decades ago, Dr. King sadly pointed out, “America has not yet changed because so many think it need not change, but this is the illusion of the dammed.” He decried at the time “a lack of meaningful work” for young Black men existed at the time.
Fast forward to today where overall Black unemployment numbers in 2013 was almost 21 percent for those age 18-29. Although overall Black jobless rates fell in December to just under 12 percent, it remains much higher than that of Whites.
“There are young people graduating from college without real employment opportunities or their shot at the American Dream,” Generation Opportunity Policy Director Terence Grado told NewsOne last year.
“There is no single answer to the plight of the American Negro,” surmised Dr. King. “I think that the place to start, however, is in the area of human relations, and especially in the area of community-police relations. Very few cities have really faced up to this problem and tried to do something about it. It is the most abrasive element in Negro-White relations, but it is the last to be scientifically and objectively appraised.”
Finally, Dr. King back then called for local, state and federal attention to infrastructure needs, such as rapid transit, that would “provide an opportunity for poor people to get meaningful employment,” and he believed that fully addressing housing needs would be a progressive step in human relations.
“When you go beyond a relatively simple though serious problem…you begin to get into all the complexities of the modern American economy,” he concluded. “The question that now faces us is whether we can turn the Negro’s disillusionment and bitterness into hope and faith in the essential goodness of the American system.
“If we don’t, our society will crumble.”