Mov­ing the goal post on racism

Calgary Sun - - COMMENT -

In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ap­peared on a BBC news show. The host asked King about At­tor­ney Gen­eral Robert Kennedy’s pre­dic­tion, an au­da­cious one at the time, that a black man could be elected pres­i­dent in 40 years.

King thought it would not take that long: “There are cer­tain prob­lems and prej­u­dices and mores in our so­ci­ety which make it dif­fi­cult now. How­ever, I am very op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture. Frankly, I have seen cer­tain changes in the United States over the last two years that sur­prise me . ... On the ba­sis of this, I think we may be able to get a Ne­gro pres­i­dent in less than 40 years. I would think that this could come in 25 years or less.” It took 44 years. The day after the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama front-page sto­ries in news­pa­pers all over the coun­try, in­clud­ing The New York Times, quoted black par­ents say­ing things like, “For the first time in my life I can truly look my child in the eye and say, yes, you could be­come pres­i­dent some­day.”

A tear­ful Jesse Jack­son said he never thought he would see the day. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights leader who marched with Dr. King, said: “I feel very grate­ful that I’m still here to be here dur­ing this un­be­liev­able his­toric mo­ment in our coun­try. This is a day of thanks­giv­ing, a night of cel­e­bra­tion . ... It’s un­be­liev­able that we have come such a dis­tance in such a short time, to see a young AfricanAmer­i­can man elected pres­i­dent of the United States.”

It’s dif­fi­cult to over­state the sig­nif­i­cance of the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

As re­cently as the 1950s, polls showed that the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans said they would never vote for a black per­son for pres­i­dent, no mat­ter how qual­i­fied. But in 2007, then-Sen. Obama, speak­ing at a his­tor­i­cally black church in Alabama on the 42nd an­niver­sary of the Selma march, talked about our coun­try’s great progress in race re­la­tions. Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to Obama, is “90 per­cent of the way there.” Obama said: “I’m here be­cause some­body marched for our free­dom. I’m here be­cause y’all sac­ri­ficed for me. I stand on the shoul­ders of giants. I thank the Moses gen­er­a­tion. But we have got to re­mem­ber now that Joshua still had a job to do . ... The pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, the Moses gen­er­a­tion, pointed the way. They took us 90 per­cent of the way there. But we (the ‘Joshua gen­er­a­tion’) still got that 10 per­cent in or­der to cross over to the other side.”

Now this “90 per­cent” oc­curred be­fore Obama’s elec­tion and re-elec­tion, so pre­sum­ably we carved into the re­main­ing 10 per­cent. But, oh what a dif­fer­ence a few years makes. Two things oc­curred.

First, the elec­tion of a black per­son did not bring about the ex­pected “hope and change.” In fact, the per­cent­age of blacks liv­ing in poverty in­creased un­der Obama. Shortly be­fore Obama’s elec­tion, a sup­porter at a cam­paign rally named Peggy Joseph fa­mously gushed about what an Obama vic­tory would mean: “I wouldn’t have to worry about putting gas in my car. I wouldn’t have to worry about pay­ing my mort­gage. You know -if I help him, he’ll help me.” Well, guess what. Bar­bara Bush was right when she said, “Your suc­cess as a fam­ily, our suc­cess as a so­ci­ety, de­pends not on what hap­pens at the White House but on what hap­pens inside your house.”

In 1992, the De­part­ment of Jus­tice’s Bureau of Jus­tice Statis­tics ex­am­ined the 75 most pop­u­lous coun­ties. Turns out the jury is less likely to con­vict a black de­fen­dant of a felony than a white de­fen­dant. The study found that “in 12 of the 14 types of crimes (felonies in­clud­ing mur­der, rape and other se­ri­ous crimes) for which data was col­lected, the con­vic­tion rate for blacks is lower than that of whites.” Sim­i­larly, in 2013, the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Jus­tice, the re­search and eval­u­a­tion agency of the DOJ, pub­lished their study of whether the po­lice, as a re­sult of racial bias, stop blacks more than other driv­ers. The con­clu­sion? Any racial dis­par­ity in traf­fic stops is due to “dif­fer­ences in of­fend­ing” in ad­di­tion to “dif­fer­ences in ex­po­sure to the po­lice” and “dif­fer­ences in driv­ing pat­terns.”

My un­cle Ed­die, a bar­ber in Chat­tanooga, Ten­nessee, im­mersed him­self in lo­cal Repub­li­can pol­i­tics. He died 20 years be­fore Obama got elected. He would’ve been stunned that the coun­try of seg­re­ga­tion in which he was born could evolve so that his nephew would see the elec­tion of a black pres­i­dent. But he would likely have been even more as­ton­ished at how quickly Martin Luther King’s dream of a col­or­blind so­ci­ety has turned into a quest to purge the town square of Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues. He would have been shocked that a group called Black Lives Mat­ter, given cred­i­bil­ity by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, is­sued a “list of de­mands” of white people.

In eight years, we’ve gone from the elec­tion of the first black pres­i­dent to a call for cam­pus “safe spa­ces” to com­bat al­leged racist “mi­croag­gres­sions.” Un­cle Ed­die would have called this mov­ing the goal post. www.lar­


Dr. MarTiN LuThEr KiNg jr.

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