Postponing King's Post Racial Dream:
Exaggerated Rumors of Racism's Demise
The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday usually ushers in the season when America turns black. The period between MLK Day and the end of February has, traditionally, been the one time of year when black history is taken out of the closet and placed, briefly, in America's living room. However, during an era when many folks are parroting the line that we live in some sort of a "post racial America," the glow of black commemorative celebrations seems to be fading into obscurity.
Some argue that with the election of America's first black president, the glory days of the annual American collective group sing along of "We Shall Overcome" have come and gone. To hear the homies on the Right tell it, racism in the "20 dime" only exists in the minds of a few disillusioned, radical extremists who just can't let go of the past.
Contrary to popular belief, the idea that Americans have somehow, outgrown throwing racial temper tantrums did not begin on November 5, 2008 with the election of Barack Obama. To hear some folks tell it, this country has been "post racial" every since Abraham Lincoln delivered his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
I am sure that the newly emancipated slaves were hit with the post racial argument when they dared to argue for their 40 acres and a mule.
I can hear Bill O'Reilly's great, great grandfather yellin' , "Hey, you pinheads got your freedom; stop your whinin' !"
Shortly afterwords, during the short lived Reconstruction Period, the fact that black folks won political offices in the South, for many, was proof positive that they had reached the proverbial Promised Land.
Unfortunately, those advancements were quickly rendered null and void by the Compromise of 1877.
Oh well, back to the drawing board.
During World War I, many black soldiers believed that if they picked up a rifle and risked life and limb to fight for Uncle Sam, they would be welcomed home as heroes instead of returning to the sight of black veterans hanging from trees still sporting their uniforms. This was followed by the Red Summer of 1919 and some of the worst racial unrest in American history. Hardly evidence of a new era of racial equality.
The election of John F. Kennedy signaled to many the death of racism but events like the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four little black girls and the antics of Bull Connor reminded Americans that the rumors of racism's demise had been largely exaggerated.
When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr called 250,000 men ,women and children to Washington DC in 1963 for the big love fest, many believed that, surely, freedom bells would be a ringin' from "the prodigious house tops of New Hampshire" to "every hill and mole hill in Mississippi" and all 'hoods in between. However, an assassin's bullet and days of rioting slapped America back into reality.
Following King's assassination, neither the Johnson Administration's poverty programs nor Richard Nixon's "minority" economic development initiatives prevented Ronald Reagan's "voodoo economics" of the '80's from putting black folks back in the poor house.
The 90's euphoria of the election of the saxophone playin', "honorary black" president Bill Clinton, served only to soften African Americans up for the Republican backlash that resulted in Bush II and such calamities as the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.
Even in today's superficial world of entertainment, some believe that white kids blastin' Lil Wayne on their stereos and wearing their pants hangin' down to their ankles somehow signifies that we are truly one big happy (though slightly dysfunctional) American family.
Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder ticked a lot of people off when he called America a nation of cowards when it comes to discussing race.
Americans aren't scared to discuss race, they just find it more politically expedient to ignore the issue all together.
So, we sit around waiting for the next racist boot to drop or as Dr. King's rival, Malcolm X put it, continue "sitting on a powder keg." Then one day, somebody like Senator Harry Reid makes a bone headed racist comment or some yahoos in Columbia SC go around painting racist graffiti on buildings to disenfranchise black voters. Only then do we feel obligated to yell out the traditional response of mock surprise,
"I can't believe that this sort of thing is happening in 2010 ! " (As if 2009 or 1963 would have made the events more socially acceptable.)
So, as I prepare to sit around the house on January 18th watching the Dr. Martin Luther King documentary for the umpteenth time, I can't help but think about how the more things change, the more they stay the same....
Free at last. Free at last?
Not yet Doc. Not yet.
Paul Scott writes for No Warning Shots Fired.com. He can be reached at (919) 451-8283 or firstname.lastname@example.org To join the campaign to bring the No Warning Shots Fired column to your local newspaper, contact the editor, today.