Martin Luther King Day, 2005.
It is important to honor the memory of Martin Luther King, not only with personal homilies, but with continuation of his efforts to apply the principles of non-violence to the need for social, political and economic justice.
While enormous progress has been made since the days of segregation and violent racism in this country, with the disenfranchisement of voters, with the church bombings, the vicious attacks on civil rights marchers and the assassinations of leaders such as Dr. King and Malcolm X, it must be noted that there is still a long way to go.
In the recent national elections there were clear attempts at driving down the voting in certain key states in areas that had a predominantly black population. Voter rights, a key victory in Dr. King’s civil rights battles, is being eroded through these suppression techniques, and therefore, candidates who support the needs and aspirations of the black community are being defeated. Voter suppression took place using active intimidation, instilling of fear, use of inaccurate voter rolls, and the use of antiquated inefficient equipment to force minority voters to stand for hours in long lines in order to exercise their voting franchise. This is a very troubling trend and needs to be addressed if we are ever going to achieve Dr. King’s vision.
The levers of opportunity in this country are requiring, more and more, strong educational background. It is therefore essential that minority communities have access to a strong educational system and funding. However, more often than not, schools in densely populated urban areas are old, run-down, have antiquated equipment, do not have access to modern computer systems or broadband internet, and the students in these schools therefore tend to have a handicap in terms of acquiring both higher education and skilled jobs in the future. To the extent possible the current government is also trying to siphon funds away from public schools and provide opportunities for private schools which cater to suburban and upwardly mobile populations. Many of our better teachers, unwilling to work in substandard working conditions in broken down schools without proper equipment, simply choose to not teach in urban schools. We are creating, through our unwillingness to invest in urban schools a system whereby the “rich get richer” and the “poor get poorer” and this affects in particular the black community.
The laws are developed in such a way as to unfairly target black youths. For instance stockbrokers who use cocaine recreationally do not get the same kind of sentencing that black youths who take crack cocaine get. The rich hire expensive lawyers and get released or reduced sentences; while the poor rely on public defenders and go to jail. This can be clearly seen in the population of the prisons which is increasingly minority, poor and disenfranchised. These individuals, when they get out of prison, are often unable to vote, get decent jobs or fit into society and thus, we create a permanent class of people who are always suppressed by the legal system and have no real opportunity in our society.
There remains strong bias in various sections of our society against minorities, and in particular we see that black males between 18 and 30 are the highest unemployment segment in our society and it is chronic unemployment. Not only does this disrupt the families and communities, enhance activities that put this group into prison at a higher rate (they are trying to survive without the ability to succeed in normal occupational directions!), but it also creates a permanent military pool who basically have only one choice, that is, to put their lives and their bodies at risk fighting wars of domination and control around the world.
Our country needs to continue working on developing a “color-blind” approach that provides everyone with opportunity and the benefits of our society; but at the same time, we need to recognize that there are embedded imbalances that have a history of hundreds of years in the making, and it remains necessary to provide additional, not reduced, opportunities to those communities who have had less leverage traditionally in our economy and political institutions. In many cases the people at the top of the economic and political ladder got there through family inheritances that were built on the backs of economically oppressed people and outright slaves. It is not unfair to rebalance the scales to give the children and grand-children of slaves an equal opportunity and the support needed to utilize that opportunity, and those who have benefited from the past injustices should be prepared to make room for their fellow citizens who should now have their chances.
It is in the interest of everyone in this country to work for social justice, economic justice, true human equality and goodwill and a balanced economic opportunity that encourages everyone to work together to build a better society, a better world and a better human family.
Twin Lakes, Wisconsin
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