February 16, 2021
First published June 29, 2020
Where do we go from here?
I’ve heard a lot of people asking that question lately.
Interestingly enough, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. posed that same question in 1967 (during the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference). He suggested that to answer the question, we must first HONESTLY recognize where we are
King said: “When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was sixty percent of a person. Today, another curious formula seems to declare he is fifty percent of a person. Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites.“
Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share: There are twice as many unemployed; the rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites, and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population. In other spheres, the figures are equally alarming. In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites, and their segregated schools receive substantially less money per student than the white schools. One-twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college. Of employed Negroes, seventy-five percent hold menial jobs. This is where we are.”
To all of my well-meaning white brothers and sisters who are asking the question today – eager to move to “action steps” in a quest to end racism, I have a question for you: Do you know where we are? If not, I suggest that you find out before moving to treat the symptoms rather than working to root out the disease, which is racism.
To all of my Black and Brown brothers and sisters, I suggest that we follow King’s advice: “First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amid a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values.”
He warned, however, that arousing human worth within a “people that have been taught for so many centuries that they are nobody is not easy.” He stressed how even semantics/language have perpetuated a false sense of inferiority in Black and Brown children while perpetuating a false sense of superiority in white children.
“In Roget’s Thesaurus there are some 120 synonyms for blackness and at least sixty of them are offensive, such words as blot, soot, grim, devil, and foul. And there are some 134 synonyms for whiteness and all are favorable, expressed in such words as purity, cleanliness, chastity, and innocence. A white lie is better than a black lie. The most degenerate member of a family is the “black sheep”, he said.
King urged us to affirm our own self-worth, to reach down to the inner depths of our own being, and sign our own emancipation proclamation, telling the world that we are human beings with dignity and honor.
I signed my own emancipation proclamation decades ago, and I will not apologize for my truth: that I am Black, that I am proud (not arrogant), that I am valuable, that I have a rich and noble history, that Black is beautiful, that Black men are not a threat, that Black Lives Matter.
And I will not apologize for hesitating to applaud the institutions, corporations, organizations, and individuals who insist on treating the symptoms of racism while white supremacy continues to drive the operating system in America.