It’s likely you’ll see a LOT of stories about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Every single one will marvel at how much progress has been made in America in the area of race, since 1963. Almost all will point to a black President, the current Attorney General, and two recent Secretaries of State as examples. The divergence in opinions come on this point: some will claim that we have “reached the promised land,” making sure to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr. from that day a half-century ago – as though he were the only speaker there – while others will suggest that we haven’t quite gotten there yet.
When President Obama suggested that we look at race again in light of the Trayvon Martin case, that Obama could have been Trayvon 35 years ago, some, such as Touré at TIME, thought it was a brave personal observation. He wrote: “The assertion that blacks are hallucinating or excuse-making or lying when we talk about the many very real ways white privilege and racial bias and the lingering impact of history impact our lives is painful. It adds insult to injury to attack all assertions of racism and deny its continued impact or existence.”
Others labeled Obama “racist-in-chief”, playing the “race card” and worse. When Former Florida GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough lit into Fox News talk-show host Sean Hannity last month for suggesting that Martin was a messed up teenager who “had it coming” when he was killed by George Zimmerman in their February 2012 confrontation, the bile cast on the Morning Joe host, Martin, his parents, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, among others, by a website I follow was toxic. The always dreadful Ted Nugent said that Martin had been ‘Emboldened’ By Obama, “the first black president as a ‘Black Panther’ running a ‘gangster’ government.”
Here are four charts suggesting Obama’s right about being black in America. Being profiled is, more than anything, disheartening, I can tell you. After George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon, Lavar Burton, the original Kunte Kinte of Roots fame, noted how he had taught his sons to keep their hands open and out of the car. Meanwhile, a white guy on the same show noted that he had once locked his keys in the car, so he tried to break in; a New Orleans police officer stopped him, saying, “No, you’re not doing it right.”
There’s this show on ABC called What Would You Do? It’s a hidden camera show that looks at human psychology. I don’t watch it, but I find it interesting that several of their experiments involve race. A most powerful one involved actors pretending to be bicycle thieves. From this story: When a white young man appeared to be taking a bike, most people didn’t question it. Yet when the African-American actor took his place, “the reactions were more pronounced. At one point, a crowd assembled around the purported thief and confronted him directly. One man pulled out a cellphone and said he was calling the police, which he was about to do until the cameramen filming the event stepped forward.”
When Jackie Robinson joined major league baseball in 1947, that did not mark the end of racism and segregation. It took over a decade before every team had at least one black player. It was 1987, when Al Campanis, general manager of the DODGERS, which was Jackie’s team, rationalized on national TV why there weren’t more blacks in baseball management; I watched it live, stunned. As a direct result, the sport was far more aggressive in making sure minority candidates at least got interviewed for a management position. They took an AFFIRMATIVE ACTION to rectify a system, not of overt racism, but merely cronyism, hiring the guys one already knows.
And speaking of which, the US Supreme Court seems destined to gut the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action, under the mistaken belief that everything is all better now. The economic inequities would otherwise. Almost 400 years have passed since blacks came to America, and that there is still work to be done does not negate the progress. Nor does the progress suggest that Martin, if he were still alive, and his colleagues, some of whom still alive, and their successors, would be resting on their laurels, satisfied that the work is done.
Leonard Pitts: Living in a time of moral cowardice.
If you could somehow magically bring [Martin Luther King, Jr.] here, that tomorrow would likely seem miraculous to him, faced as he was with a time when segregation, police brutality, employment discrimination, and voter suppression were widely and openly practiced.
Here is tomorrow, after all, the president is black. The business mogul is black. The movie star is black. The sports icon is black. The reporter, the scholar, the lawyer, the teacher, the doctor, all of them are black. And King might think for a moment that he was wrong about tomorrow and its troubles.
It would not take long for him to see the grimy truth beneath the shiny surface, to learn that the perpetual suspect is also black. As are the indigent woman, the dropout, the fatherless child, the suppressed voter, and the boy lying dead in the grass with candy and iced tea in his pocket.