"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Where Do We Go from Here—Chaos or Community
By Stanford Lewis

This April marks the 38th anniversary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and African-Americans, by way of the national media, will once again begin their superficial analysis of the great man’s life.

Let’s start by asking the usual questions: Where do we go from here—chaos or community? Why can’t black people wait? Black people have made great progress since the 1950 and ’60s—or have they? These queries will be thoroughly overworked during the next few days.

The media annually turn King—an eloquent and profound theologian—into a kind of minstrel who is trotted out to sell their uncritical version of the American dream. King was not that kind of dreamer, however. He was a leader who through his words, actions, and courage fought structural racism, poverty, materialism, and militarism.

To properly celebrate the great man’s life we must examine the economic and social goals for which he strove, particularly during the last five years of his life, when he challenged the structured racism, poverty, materialism, and American value system that plagued his world, and still plagues ours. Only in this way can African-Americans truly hope to gain a valid perspective on the progress we’ve made since King’s assassination. And if we are going to celebrate him, we should at least examine what he was fighting for.

Structural Class and Race Issues

King identified the “tragic gulf” that existed between the civil rights laws that were being passed during the 1960s and their implementation. He came to understand that there was a double standard in respect to particular laws, and that white America had “backlashed against the fundamental God-given human rights of the Negro American for more than three hundred years . . . ” Contrary to popular belief, the racism that King experienced—and that our society continues to be plagued with—was not merely the individualistic prejudiced attitude held against a particular person or people. King came to understand that racism had more to do with power/economics (racisms = power + prejudice), which could deny an entire group access to opportunities.

The Fight for the Have-nots Continues

African-Americans currently have a substantial middle class. Nevertheless, masses of African-Americans still live on or extremely close to the poverty line. Black people are still plagued by the trinity of poverty, ignorance and disease. During his short lifetime, King felt compelled to fight against the ultraconservatism of his times, and even went so far as to criticize many of the so-called “middle-class black population” for both privately and publicly deserting the less fortunate. And he clearly spoke to them, by brazenly stating in the 1960s, “The middle-class Negro is our problem.” He queried: “How many successful Negroes have forgotten that uneducated and poverty-stricken mother and fathers often worked until their eyebrows were scorched and their hands bruised so that their children could get an education? And, sadly, he came to feel that “for any middle-class Negro to forget the masses is an act not only of neglect but shameful ingratitude.”

Admittedly, King was a little frustrated with black America when he made that statement in 1967, but would he be less frustrated today—almost four decades later—when so many of our middle class are full retreat from the suffering masses? As King forewarned, “The salvation of the Negro middle-class is ultimately dependent upon the salvation of the Negro masses.” Of course it is time for the Negro middle-class to rise up from its stool of indifference, stop retreating into dreamlands with flights of unreality, and—with compassion—aid the less advantaged; bringing their hearts, minds, and checkbooks to help their less fortunate brothers.

American Value System

Near the end of his far too short life, King began rethinking many of the ideas about America’s values that he had previously accepted uncritically. He was slowly coming to the conclusion that American values were deeply flawed, often both inhumane and unjust. He called for a “revolution of values,” and said, “Let us, therefore, not think of our movement as one that seeks to integrate the Negro into all the existing values of American society. Let us be those ‘creative dissenters’ who will call our beloved nation to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness.” He was calling upon African-Americans to become a “colony of dissenters” who challenged America to be fair with all of her citizens.

For those of us who maintain that African-Americans have made great progress since the 1950s and ’60s, we must state unequivocally that progress has undeniably been made in many areas. Nevertheless, if we are to truly gauge the weight of that progress we must be willing to examine how far the black Americans and progressive-minded people who were fighting structural racism, poverty, materialism and the American value system over 38 years ago were able to un-burden the masses.
posted by R J Noriega at 2:48 PM | Permalink |


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