I’m glad that we have a National holiday honoring civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What troubles me is how far we have yet to go in the civil rights movement. I hear people talking now about the March on the Mall in Washington, yet they don’t know the March was organized by the openly gay Bayard Rustin. Hearing so many people purporting to have been present during King’s I Have a Dream speech, also leaves me a bit bothered. We like to pretend that we are not a nation continuing to struggle with racism; I have even heard people use the phrase “post-racist” society as though that was something real and already achieved. Yet we have no further to look than the numbers.
Let us start with the Senate. Of the 100 Senators currently serving, only one of them is African-American (and he was appointed to his current office). Moving on to the House of Representatives (note the word Representatives), of the 435 civil servants (albeit 433 right now due to current vacancies), only 41 are African-American. Of the 50 Governors only one is African-American. Of the nearly 8300 U.S. mayors, only about 650 are African American. This disproportionality in representation and leadership clearly speaks to how far we have yet to go.
As one can see the power structure is still fundamentally white, male, Christian, and heterosexual. Whether we want to admit it or not, most people still benefit from institutionalized racism. I am not saying most people are racist, in fact, I would assert that most people are not racist (save for the Tea Party), yet we have a mass of people who are the beneficiaries of racism.
I am grateful for the significant strides being made for civil rights and social justice, but let us acknowledge there is still much work to be done around people that are marginalized and how we treat people that are not part of the institutional power structure. Dr. King’s voice of advocacy for civil rights has room for many others to join the choir and push back against how we “other” people and strip populations of their dignity–now is not the time to be satisfied:
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity…–I Have a Dream, Dr. King
TSM also wants to wish a heart felt congratulations to President Obama on his second inauguration! I hope everyone gets to see the amazing Myrlie Evers deliver the Invocation. I also want to note that the openly gay Latino Richard Blanco is the inaugural poet–nice choice.