America and Race: What would King do?

If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today would his words be enough to save America from a pending racial implosion? From the looks of things, this country is firmly on the path to one big racial meltdown. The post-racist climate some people assumed that we would have after President Barack Obama took office, turns out to be nothing more than a grand scale delusion.

This is unfortunate.

Knowing the truth doesn’t mean being blind to the truth. Hope does not mean being lax in the common sense department. America, we’ve been both. This is a scary time for the future of America when it comes to race relations. America likes to brag about its diversity, and how far it has come from its wicked ways of the past, a past that beckons the irreparable sins of slavery.

To tell the truth, 1968 doesn’t seem that far off when the fight against segregation, the right to vote and equality as American citizens was a plundering task for black people. Instead of waterhoses, house bombings and police dogs, the countless unarmed shootings of black Americans, the persistent legal challenges to Affirmative Action and who has the right to vote, have been the social issues of this time. It’s not that much different today.

Finding black men and children hanging from the end of a rope on some lonely road somewhere have been superseded by African Americans being routinely snuffed out without repercussion by vigilantes (George Zimmerman) and law enforcement personnel (Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, etc). The suppression of every citizens right to vote has come full circle with the Supreme Court choosing to gut the Voting Rights of 1965 with a handed-down, majority decision in 2013.

Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, in a statement resourced through the New York Times, essentially said this was a new day.

“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons through Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons through Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

Good luck with that one. When Roberts and the Supreme Court showed their true colors in that decision, racial bias in the courts, the all-too-familiar pattern of pain and heartache, cemented the angst that blacks and people of color have about justice for all.

Back in the day, we could count on the likes of Dr. King, Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to have our backs. It is a bit more complicated these days.

The Black Lives Matter movement is trying its best to stick around and have the same voice at the table about social discussions as the Civil Rights Movement did in pushing for change in this country. So I ask you, just how far off are we as a people, as a country?

Interesting enough that as the nation celebrated the first black Commander-in-Chief in the election  of President Obama, it seems as if a seed of evil was planted to make sure folks didn’t celebrate too much over it.

Dr. Martin Luther King giving his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington in Washington, D.C., on 28 August 1963. National Archives and Records Administration
Dr. Martin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington in Washington, D.C., on 28 August 1963. National Archives and Records Administration

Many white people felt their race guilt justified by the election of President Obama, and was ready to forged on with the push to make us believe that racism was now over. Only a fool would believe that notion. What the election of President Obama in 2008 and 2012 prove is that the more things change, the more things remain the same. You can’t legislate hate and racism out of society.

But you and I can decide how far it can reach other people. Celebrating the life and contributions of Dr. King is one way. King brought peace. He was the light in the Civil Rights Movement. The air over civil rights and opportunity of inclusion today, however, feels like it has been handcuffed by quiet bigotry instead of the in-your-face racist twit rant.

The Academy Awards, with its all-white nominee selections, just showed us this. It is interesting, as actress Jada Pinkett Smith, the powerful other half to actor Will Smith, pointed out in a series of tweets over the latest Oscars snubs, that blacks can be invited to participate as presenters, and entertain the natives, but are rarely acknowledged for their achievements.

It seems as though the act of inclusion does not apply to the Academy Awards, which, through its continued white list of nominees, has sent out a covert message to people of color that you may be invited to the party, but don’t you can’t stay around to get something to eat. One would have to wonder would Dr. King say or do about this ongoing dilemma.

This ideology is quietly sweeping the sports world as well. Let’s examine the NCAA’s leadership cause when it comes to hiring people of color. There are 128 Division 1 schools that participate in football. In 2014, only 11 of those positions were occupied by black men. The whitewashing continues.  As it goes, when it comes head coaching positions in sports dominated by African Americans, blacks are still left in the back of the bus.

What would Dr. King do about this? Call in a sit-out boycott by student-athletes the way he and Dr. Ralph Abernathy headed the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott? The problem with this scenario and others playing out would be the burning question of would these young men and women be willing to sacrifice possible incarceration, being ostracized and having financial gain and commercial opportunities yanked from them in order take a stand?

At some point in a person’s life, one have to make a decision, right or wrong, popular or unpopular, to stand by their beliefs. As African Americans, it appears that edge has been lost. So as a people, we have settled, some of us, into our own comfortable nest eggs sitting on a hill or by the beach to try to escape the realities of life.

Somewhere after the landmark victories of civil rights laws, black Americans got comfortable and let things roll. We slept, and while we went to take an extended nap, a strategic plan was being formulated behind the scenes to dismantle every gain we have made. It may have taken a couple of decades, but now we can those plans take hold in full fruition through judicial appointments, business alliances and organizations like the Tea Party, Citizens for Constitutional Freedom and Council of Conservative Citizens.

This time period that we’re in feels like the legacy of peace and equality that Dr. King preached about has been literally thrown out the window. The tribalism mentality over the Second Amendment and guns has spewed nothing but hate rhetoric. Is this still our country?

As we celebrate the man and the many wonderful works of Dr. King, we asked what does it all mean to African Americans and other minorities in the era of President Obama? In this writer’s opinion, sadly, almost nothing.

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1057 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.