By Richard B. Muhammad -Editor-
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Lines started early for the commemoration of the March on Washington, at one point stretching to the Washington Monument on the National Mall. It was a day of speeches, singing, memories and talk of where America stands 50 years after Aug. 28, 1963.
President Barack Obama was the final speaker on a program “devoted” to Martin Luther King and a message popularly mis-known as “I Have A Dream.” The president–preceded by King family members, activists, political, social and union leaders–talked about the Dream, the distance traveled and the distance yet to go.
But he didn’t lay out race-related, or racial justice policies for the remainder of his term. No grand vision for how he would use all executive power within his grasp to confront racial inequality. No boldness, no promise, no commitment, no focus on closing the gap that makes Black life generally harsher than life as a White person in America.
Much remains the same as 1963: Blacks earn less than Whites and are more likely to be poor. Black unemployment remains double that of Whites–even in the best of economic times. Voting rights are under assault. Advocates are calling on Congress, which has done little, to protect these rights as GOPers in the South and as far Up South as Pennsylvania push ways to suppress the Black vote. Racially-mixed couples have increased but are less likely to marry, according to the Census Bureau, likely because bringing someone of another race home for the big day remains a problem.
A Pew Research Center poll, “King’s Dream Remains An Elusive Goal,” found only 26 percent of Blacks felt things had gotten better in the past 5 years, while 21 percent said things were worse. Half said things were about the same.
A Gallup poll released Aug. 28 found 60 percent of Blacks felt Whites have an easier time getting jobs that Blacks are qualified for. Seventy-four percent of Blacks felt Whites had better job opportunities in 1963.
An early August Reuters-Ipsos poll found nearly “40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race.”
“The figures highlight how segregated the United States remains … Looking at a broader circle of acquaintances to include coworkers as well as friends and relatives, 30 percent of Americans are not mixing with others of a different race, the poll showed,” Reuters reported.
For Maryland resident Nana Kwesie, who hails from Ghana, the day was about lessons for seven-year-old Gabriel, his son. The struggle remains the same but you have to be smarter and more discerning to fight back, he said. Gabriel may not remember the day but it was part of an education in U.S. racial reality taught by his father, who worries some about his boy’s future.
A middle-aged Black woman, laid off after 20 years as a public school teacher, expressed pride in having a Black president. But, she was ready for him to leave office. Congress won’t cooperate to get anything done and the president doesn’t focus much on Black people, she said.
There is no doubt Mr. Obama remains popular and a source of pride for Black folk. Still his homage to Dr. King belied bitter truths and warnings from the civil rights martyr. It might have been expected: While Mr. Obama is often portrayed as the child of the Dream, his has been a racially reluctant presidency. He has been a stalwart in exhorting Blacks to shun dependence, avoid the trap of low expectations and goals pursued with too little discipline, but has kept White America as comfortable as possible. His messages on race–whether about the Trayvon Martin killing or Black discontent after acquittal of the Black teen’s killer–are carefully chosen and come under public duress. He has issued no strong call for White America to abandon its racial attitudes and combat systemic bias that limits and haunts Black people.
But the Dr. King of Mr. Obama and many who lionize him is a man frozen on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. The King who called the U.S. government the greatest purveyor of violence in the world is forgotten. The King who pushed for economic justice and care for poor people goes unmentioned. The King who called for an end to U.S. military adventures is discarded and an inconvenient truth for a president bent on bombing Syria.
“While lionized in death, King was often reviled and vilified during his lifetime by the same forces who would falsely claim today to have always been in his corner,” observed writer Adrian Harewood of the Ottawa Citizen.
“For his indictment of the U.S. war in Vietnam, King was labeled unpatriotic, naÃ¯ve, a communist stooge, a dupe. Members of his own organization, the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and civil rights stalwarts such as A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the Urban League, and even King’s trusted confidante Bayard Rustin, decried his ‘recklessness,’ accusing him of jeopardizing the gains made by the movement.”
Urban League leader Young told the media, the anti-war remarks should be seen as the view of a single Negro, not a community, not a movement, not a leader. Freezing Dr. King in time is one reason this country remains stuck on a racial treadmill. But the treadmill isn’t stuck in time. It rolls steadily backward.
(Final Call editor-in-chief Richard B. Muhammad can be reached at [email protected] finalcall.com. Follow him on Facebook and @RMfinalcall on Twitter.)