It is a stunning bit of serendipity that the President’s second Inaugural falls on this day we celebrate as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It gives me pause to reflect upon the legacy of Dr. King, and how far we have traveled, and how far, sadly we still have to go.
Because our President is African-American, it is almost inevitable that the rabid minority who detest him with a fervor that reaches to at or near real hatred, are quick to point out (almost always unasked of course) that they are not racists. But they also go further, attempting in some drug-induced phantasmagoria to capture Dr. King as their own. They quote with self-satisfaction two facts: one, that Dr. King was after all, one of them, a Republican, and second they quote from his “I Have a Dream” speech, that they “judge a person by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.”
To them, this settles the question. If anyone pursues the issue further, they are “race baiting” or “playing the race card”, trying to blame their circumstances not on their own limitations, but rather on a non-existent barrier that prevents them from reaching their goal.
Race still matters in America. No matter how politically correct we are, or how politically correct we witness others being, the ugly face of racism seethes just below the surface. My own father, a man as racist as any could be, became politically correct, dropping the “N” word from his speech, but he could snarl out the word “black” with the same venomous disgust as the other word. There was no mistaking his true views.
History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals. (MLK Letter from Birmingham Jail)
Race matters when those on the extreme Right refuse to legitimize the present office holder of the Presidency. Race matters when posters are painted of the Commander-in-Chief as a African Voodoo artist. Race matters when the emphasis is placed on Mr. Obama’s middle name. Race matters when the only African-Americans deemed acceptable are those who uphold the views of the Right that “everyone” now has an equal chance. Race matters when the majority of black Americans are “victims” of the Plantation Democrats, unable apparently to think for themselves, but need the Right to explain to them that “handouts” aren’t real progress.
When Planned Parenthood is attacked as a genocide upon the black race, rather than what it is, an organization that provides the only health care available to millions of women of color and otherwise, race matters.
Race matters when undocumented workers who pay taxes, and work for low wages doing the jobs that most white folks won’t do, raising their families to be hardworking, and law-abiding citizens, are called “Illegals”. When we seek to strip citizenship from their children because they are “anchor babies”, racism is dripping from our lips.
Race matters when our sisters living within the reservations still can be assaulted by non-Native men and get no justice.
Race matters in this country and we refuse to see it and deny it at our peril. For racial hatred is deadly, it eats at the fabric of society and destroys it from within. It keeps us from embracing each other with full acceptance, but mires us in the mud of distrust and suspicion.
We are not a society that is free of racism, any more than we are free of sexism, any more than we are free of our own versions of what is moral and what is not. We are not tolerant about many things, and there are those who say that to be tolerant is to be accepting of that which we know to be wrong merely to get along. That is not true. To be tolerant is to recognize that we, each of us, do not have a corner on morality. Our version is not THE version necessarily. Being tolerant is being open to the possibility that there are other ways, ways better than ours. For the religious, it means we are open to the work of the Spirit to enlarge our world and to our understanding of Right.
Martin Luther King Jr., was not a Republican because he believed in the tenets of the Republican party, surely not as it exists today. He is not yours, Tea party adherents. He was a Republican because that was his only choice given the Dixiecrat Democrats, who were thoroughly opposed to civil rights for black people.
Martin Luther King Jr., was not in favor of simply having an even playing field, which you Tea party adherents claim. Such doesn’t exist in the first place. And secondly Dr. King spoke often about the inequality of wealth in this country and its dangers. In fact he wondered whether capitalism was a viable economic model if it resulted in such inequality and poverty at the bottom of the pyramid of society.
Martin Luther King Jr., died while engaged in support of sanitation workers in Memphis. He supported unions and knew that they were the only viable means of securing fair wages and safe working conditions for all workers.
Look within yourselves. We must each look within ourselves. Racism is insidious. Find it. Eradicate it.