Today marks the celebration and remembrance of the life and journey of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It took decades of struggle to set aside a day, and then another lengthy campaign to memorialize Dr. King in Washington, D.C., to honor someone this critical and authentically important. Given his great vision and what he did for the Civil Rights movement – and, inarguably for all of mankind – it’s unfortunate that the image of Dr. King is both iconic and a reminder how far we have left to go before we can say that the battle that he waged ultimately succeeded.
If we are going to be honest, and we must, we have to admit that it did not succeed, at least not yet.
Last week I read an article last week about Republican leadership in the House of Representatives doling out Chairmanships for committees that hold great power and prestige. What was remarkable was that every single spot was filled with white men. Not a single minority, not a single woman, not a single token symbol of diversity from a political Party that, in rhetoric only, has attempted to stake a claim to diversity. They just can’t seem to prove it by action.
Last Friday at about 8:30 a.m., the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, also known as The Academy Awards or The Oscars, made their annual announcement of nominations for all of the usual categories and here, too, not a single minority or woman was represented in ANY of the major categories.
Coincidence? Perhaps, but I don’t think so.
The year is 2015 and we still have segments of our grand society where we can count on one hand how many Blacks have held positions of power in Congress. The same is true for Blacks in film. Although they have certainly made Hollywood billions of dollars, the recognition they should have earned by now – that they HAVE earned it by now – continues to be ignored.
Blacks who hold power or who have held power in our political base is an awfully small club as well. It doesn’t take a degree in political science to know that, in terms of the percentage of our population, our “representative” government does not represent Blacks at the political level. This is just as true at the state level as it is at the federal level. It’s disappointing. In fact, it’s offensive.
I could cite all kinds of facts that support what we already know, rarely talk about, and mostly ignore as time passes us by more quickly than we are comfortable with, as many of you would agree. I am astounded at a very real level that, as I approach my 54th birthday, I am still living in a world, a community, a state, and country, that still have not advanced in the way we dialogue with each other. We still do not dare to recognize that ALL of society is responsible for the landscape that we have designed. It seems that it’s only when we have cops shooting young black kids that the conversation heats up to the point where we as a society want to do something to heal and repair the bridge that divides us all. It’s a reality that we just seem to be all too comfortable with. All talk, no action.
The percentage of Blacks that live in poverty, reside in our jails, have single-parent households, have fewer educational opportunities, etc. is embarrassingly high. Finger pointing still takes place at all levels of our communities and the blame game is as sharp today as it has ever been. Yet, the rapid pace of technology has done nothing but further distance between White America and Black America. Our schools are still very much about the Haves and the Have Nots. Many jobs are still defined and allocated by the color of a person’s skin. And, truth be told, too many White people are still afraid of Black people and they have no idea why, except to sustain the meme that Blacks are dangerous. Sadly, the generational cycle of poverty, despair, along with a lack of opportunity, education, and TRUST remain firmly in place, for the most part. Who is responsible for that? All of us!
A few months back when the Ferguson, Missouri situation was crowding out any other news, I posted something on Facebook about having a forum on race relations here in Detroit. I offered it up to anyone who wanted real, dynamic, and positive change. I supported a dialogue where we could finally say what we really meant or felt without being crucified for saying it. I thought it was an excellent time to have that discussion right here in our own backyard.
The response to that idea was great…for two days. And then, when I started reaching out to people, both Black and White, suddenly people had cooled off and didn’t have time or wanted to push it off until the spring for a variety of reasons. It didn’t happen and most likely won’t.
Maybe it was the way I was raised. Maybe it was the way I have interacted with people of very diverse backgrounds, or for some other reason or set of reasons, but I do not see color. I do not see someone’s sex or their orientation. I only see people and I want to say that this is a blessing, and I do believe it is. But I also know that I do not belong to a group of people large enough to make a difference or I wouldn’t be writing this right now.
I obviously don’t have all the answers or I would be wealthy beyond my imagination and we would be living in a country that can be proud of the way it has included all people in their posturing, positioning, and practice, But we do not and I do not have those answers. Maybe I am being naïve to believe that a conversation on race will do any good. I’d like to find out, but I don’t think I will. I’d like to believe we are on the precipice of transcending old beliefs for a new and renewed understanding of our differences. But I don’t really see that happening, do you? I didn’t think so.
Listen, it doesn’t matter if we are talking about Affirmative Action, mandatory minimums in criminal sentences, equal access to education – which we all know if the key to the transcendence I write of – or ANY other area where progress and fairness are so badly needed. I know that we are so far away from Dr. King’s dreams that I sometimes wonder if we have actually taken a step back instead of any steps forward.
I really thought by this time in my life I would be able to see communities that found a way to integrate and just get along. Yes, there are some, I know that. But they are way too few in number to say that we have something we can be proud of.
How do you think the rest of the world sees the United States, or do you not care? I’m guessing the latter, But I DO care for many reasons. Mainly it’s because I also have a dream. My dream is that one day we can look back at what I am writing here and say to ourselves and to others, “How could that have been?” I won’t live that long but that doesn’t mean that my dreams are any less important than Dr. King’s dreams, does it?
I am not perfect and don’t claim to be. But I am also committed to trying to find a path forward and maybe this is one way to do that. Maybe not. But, when all is said and done, as long as I can say that I never quit and that I forgave myself for ever falling into the trap of going along to get along instead of standing up for my fellow citizen, which I now do very loudly, that is progress for me. It’s not fulfilling my dream, but it’s something. And let me suggest that if ALL of us did something, well, I would like to believe that would change a lot for the better.
I hope…I have faith…and I surely want to believe that I have time. Do you?