On race, Obama sticks to a game plan of seeking steady progress within the …

19 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Despite real progress, race remains the great divide in American life.

During racially tense moments that have beset the nation recently, many Americans have longed for President Obama to display some of the passion and soaring rhetoric that made the Rev.Matt Banks is an assistant basketball coach at Miami Middletown University and works with kids on the autism spectrum for Warren County Educational Service Center.

If Martin Luther King were alive today, he would be 86 years old, with a full 50 years since his historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, for voting rights. But the messages of restraint Obama has given in response to outcry over police violence are the same ones he has been dispensing for 20 to 30 years, echoes of thoughts he has had ever since he was a young community organizer in Chicago. His central tenets: Don’t give in to anger and violence; work to improve, not destroy, the legal system; and accept that change will come and things are getting better, albeit more slowly than many would like. Though Obama’s views have evolved on issues such as gay marriage and national security during his six years in office, his views on race have remained remarkably consistent, and recent events appear to have affirmed rather than altered those views. Our society is still doused with ignorance and inequality, and a number of lines from King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech remain relevant today.

That would have been the culmination of many years of achievements with African-American local, state and national leaders, along with White House cabinet members, military generals and admirals. The president is likely to touch on race again Tuesday in his State of the Union address, and if so, he will probably acknowledge that on race, as on the economy, a “resurgent America” has made great progress but still requires greater inclusiveness.

Percy Harvin, former wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, allegedly caused a locker room mutiny against quarterback Russell Wilson before he was traded. Rather than making pressing demands for economic justice like those that defined King’s crusade, Obama will make a pitch for a tax package that will aid lower- and middle-class households and serve as modest tools for economic advancement for both whites and blacks. Towards the end of his life, a radicalized King spoke of America’s triple evils of racism, militarism (violence and war) and economic exploitation (poverty).

Remarkable and yet largely unknown accomplishments by a group of people whose passage was not through Ellis Island but on ships and in chains and who somehow persevered. Day, nearly 47 years after the assassination of the civil rights leader, the nation and the president are still struggling with issues of race and discrimination, issues Obama has never denied but has long sought to de-emphasize. In 2009, Obama replaced a bust of Winston Churchill in the Oval Office with one of King, but a study by University of Pennsylvania researcher Daniel Q. Proof of that fact lies in the perceptions, outrage and disruption seen following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., at the hands of a white police officer. Obama, especially as people feared the possibility of riots in cities across the country, has sounded calls for restraint, lawful demonstrations, commissions of inquiry and slow, steady progress toward reform.

King, who is now marching larger than life across movie screens in “Selma,” fought and won rights — civil rights and voting rights — and paved the way for black political leaders, mayors and congressmen; Obama has tried to figure out how to use those rights as a political leader who happens to be black. Reminiscent of the Dixiecrats of the Jim Crow era, rightwing conservatives in the Republican Party have committed themselves to white supremacy as a marketing tool and a means of staying in power. Whether you side with police just doing their jobs – and that, in overwhelming measure and in most situations is certainly the case – or feel that there is chronic injustice when it comes to the handling of blacks, especially young black males, one thing is true: This country, nearly 50 years after King was assassinated, still has a race problem. Steve Scalise (R-La.) as House majority whip — who spoke to a white supremacist group founded by David Duke in 2002 — is but a symptom of a larger disease.

King was under surveillance by law enforcement officials; Obama has deployed his (black) attorney general to investigate Ferguson. “It’s important to recognize, as painful as these incidents are, we can’t equate what is happening now to what was happening 50 years ago,” Obama said during an interview on BET, talking about why he wasn’t more aggressive in his statements earlier. “And the reason it’s important for us to understand progress has been made is that then gives us hope that we can make even more progress.” In “Dreams From My Father,” written when he was still in his early 30s and fresh out of Harvard Law School, Obama distanced himself from those who believed that “the only thing you could choose as your own was withdrawal into a smaller and smaller coil of rage, until being black meant only the knowledge of your own powerlessness, of your own defeat.” And he warned that the outlook of blacks in the late 1970s and 1980s too often “dissipated into an attitude rather than any concrete program, a collection of grievances.” Instead, a strong strain of optimism had taken hold of him. “We could tell this country where it was wrong, I would tell myself and any black friends who would listen, without ceasing to believe in its capacity for change,” he wrote. In states throughout the country, GOP-controlled legislatures have enacted voter ID, voter roll purges and other measures to make it harder for blacks, Latinos, Asians and other constituencies to vote.

As a recent Viewpoints piece from a Washington Post writer stated, “Blacks are much more likely to be arrested than whites.” That is especially the case in Ferguson, as the writer quoted an analysis by USA Today. Senate, Obama seemed to be writing for the exact situation in which he found himself after Ferguson. “It’s not always easy for a black politician to gauge the right tone to take — too angry? not angry enough? — when discussing the enormous hardships facing his or her constituents,” Obama wrote in the book, published in 2006.

Supreme Court gutted the heart and soul of the Voting Rights Act, which was secured through the efforts of King and the blood of martyred civil rights workers. Police are frustrated, even to the point in New York City that some rudely and inappropriately turned their backs on their mayor while burying their own. When an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was shot by a white man who feared that Martin was a criminal, Obama was cautious but, in an unusual step, spoke in the voice of a black man rather than the voice of the president. “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son,” he said on July 19, 2013. “Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” But in the same remarks, Obama continued to walk a fine line, talking about federal programs, changes in the “stand your ground” laws that protected Martin’s killer, and the responsibility of “those of us in authority.” And he also said, “once the jury has spoken, that’s how our system works.” It was all part of “becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.” The same caution that made him slow to embrace gay marriage has made him unwaveringly cool in his approach to race, choosing to lower temperatures in controversy and to avoid stereotypes of the angry black person who has stalked the pages of American literature and the white imagination. For example, what an irony of ironies that while the movie Selma would receive an Oscar nomination for best film, whites received all of the acting, writing and directing nominations, with the exception of a Mexican film director. Jeremiah Wright, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington — Obama has also stuck to the themes of restraint, reform and progress that are his hallmarks.

And while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a black woman, 94% of the Oscar voters are white and 77% are men, with a median age of 62. Yet if African Americans are looking for signs of progress, they should not look to their economic status, which by many measures lags as far behind that of whites as in King’s day. It is estimated that we spend $322,000 for each enemy we kill in Vietnam while we spend in the so-called War on Poverty in America only about $53 for each person classified as poor.” In a memorable phrase, King asked, “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?” It was the issue of economic dignity that drew King to Memphis in 1968 to support a strike by sanitation workers. King told them, “You are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.” In 2013, 27 percent of African Americans lived in poverty, well over twice the 10 percent rate for white Americans, according to census data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation. As was the case during slavery and Jim Crow segregation, black bodies are undervalued, subjected to discriminatory laws, harsher punishment and death.

Black households on average bring in less than 60 cents for every dollar earned by whites — a difference only slightly smaller than it was in the mid-1960s. At their worst, police operate in communities of color not unlike the slave patrols on the plantation, with the authority to stop and frisk, violate and take the lives of innocent, unarmed black people. The war on drugs has targeted our communities and destroyed them, creating the world’s largest prison population, consisting primarily of black and brown bodies. Meanwhile, most whites have an entirely different experience with the legal system, which explains why they believe the police and the courts work for everyone. Kellogg Foundation project aimed at improving race relations, said in an interview. “The idea of racial differences not mattering, which is the post-racial frame — it’s really an aspirational expression.

King once called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Five decades later, it is impossible to refute that statement. He will not talk, as King did, of a “radical redistribution of economic power.” Instead, he will propose a variety of programs to help those in poverty, whether white or black. He might even be the guy who shows up out of the blue and visits your sick child in the hospital and provides faith when you have nowhere else to turn.

This is due to the power of the gun lobby — particularly the NRA — its ownership of Congress, an alliance with rightwing extremists and its zero tolerance for gun control. A decade ago, in “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama wrote that health-care reform “would do more to eliminate health disparities between whites and minorities than any race-specific programs we might design.” He wrote that the idea “of a rising tide lifting minority boats” was true, and that “growing incomes and a sense of security among whites made them less resistant to minority claims to equality.” Finally, after a deep recession and slow recovery, the economic tide is rising. As Politico reported, the NRA has effectively rewritten the Second Amendment, which really applied to the military, to include an individual’s right to own a gun.

Meanwhile, homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men, according to a recent medical study — more than suicide, car accidents and disease combined. Meanwhile, American tax dollars support the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinians, and the U.S. company supplying teargas to the police in Ferguson, Missouri, to fight protesters also sells their products to Egypt, Israel and Bahrain. Despite the rhetoric of the “American Dream,” where people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make it big in the land of opportunity, the U.S. is now the most unequal of the developed nations. Underfunded schools provide a pathway to prison for many impoverished children, while college students are forced to go into $1.2 trillion in debt just to finance their degree. King was not some idealistic dreamer who simply wanted people of all colors to join hands for the sake of it but rather someone who called for justice for the have nots, a redistribution of wealth in this nation.

As the nation participates in the MLK Day of Service, which is important, we should also resist the temptation to dilute his message or believe that our job is done once we have volunteered a few hours of our time.

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