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The Continuing Struggle of Racial Injustice in America

January 19, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life was celebrated across America on Monday- but throughout U of M, a startling realization began to take hold. As I talked to a number of foreign students, there were quite a few who had absolutely no idea who King was, what he stood for, and why he was famous enough to warrant getting a rare day off of school. It was actually rather interesting recanting to them some of the actions he underwent against what he felt was the injustice of the fifties and sixties. The above YouTube clip brings home who the man was, leading the Montgomery Bus Boycotts in the 1950s after a black woman named Rosa Parks dared to refuse to give up her seat on a bus to a white man and subsequently got arrested.

The fascinating read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” allows the contemporary reader a vision into what King viewed was wrong with American culture. Writing from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama after his arrest in an act of civil disobedience on April 16, 1963, King believed that if something is unjust if it is “inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law” (King 5). He argued that the Southern laws of segregation were unjust because the blacks and other minority groups had no say in the matter. They were, in his belief, marginalized. He argues that the complacency of the “white moderate” – “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action” – is more painful than those who are outright against the cause, because it is a passive defense of the status quo (King 6).

Through the actions of King and other civil rights leaders, one of John F. Kennedy’s final pieces of legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and since then one can reasonably posit that life is certainly better for all races since the days of Jim Crow and segregation- but the socioeconomic status of Blacks in America is still substantially less than that of Caucasians. According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, African-American average per capita income is $18,054 against $28,502 for Caucasians. This disparity is a dilemma, and we can not just sit back and allow this to occur. Racial injustice in America still occurs, and we are still quite far from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of racial equality. Let’s be like King in the Montgomery Bus Boycotts- we must call our congressmen, senators, petition on the streets, and fight to improve the lives of every man, woman, and child in this country- no one should be left to fall by the wayside.

What do you think? I’d love comments and perhaps a good debate on this issue in the Comments section.

  1. cfbeckman permalink
    January 19, 2011 9:59 PM

    Although I do believe that racial injustice is occuring in America today and probably always will, I think it has significantly gotten better throughout the years. Much of this improvement can be contributed to Martin Luther King Jr. and his efforts throughout the Civil Rights Movement and much of this was recognized on Martin Luther King Day here at the U of M.
    Granted, many students were simply happy to have an extra day to catch up on all of their work they didn’t do over the weekend (I know I was!), but that day meant a lot to many different people. There were various events and activities and speakers all throughout campus, and I even began to see inspirational quotes from MLK himself pop up a week in advance. Personally, I attended the “Circle of Unity” in the diag that afternoon. I was proud of our student body and its contributions to his honor. My Chinese roommate accompanied me, and upon hearing her and her friends speak of MLK, I realized that he didn’t just contribute to the U.S., he had inspired the world.
    The question here is whether or not we believe MLK is still making a difference. And I think he is. However, I do not think, were he alive, would he think America is at where it could be, racially. But that’s also the kind of man I believe MLK was; history shows us again and again that he greatly valued perseverance and wouldn’t rest until justice was served. Justice is not being served today. This can be seen, perhaps most prevalent by today’s standards, the immigration issue. This problem has been around for decades, but not until recently has it been placed on the front burner, up for action.
    No matter whether you believe MLK is still contributing to society or not, I think we can all agree that MLK day is a necessary and important day of recognition. His efforts continue to influence people all over the world, even today. However, were he still here today, I believe we would try to change the injustices still alive in society.

  2. John D'Adamo permalink
    January 20, 2011 12:53 PM

    Definitely- MLK would definitely not be content sitting back and saying we’ve solved our racial issues completely, if he were still alive today. He also definitely made an impact on American society in his advocation of civil disobedience to break the status quo and end injustice, and that wouldn’t have ended with the civil rights reform in the mid-60s. He was already launching social welfare programs and starting that leg of his advocacy at the time of his untimely assassination… and it is now up to us to take on the mantle. Because let’s face it- we still have major issues with race in this country. It isn’t talked about because there is a temptation to sweep in under the rug, but Barack Obama in his “A More Perfect Union” speech during the 2008 election outlined the fact that we still have a lot of work to do.

  3. kasnetz permalink
    January 20, 2011 2:14 PM

    I definitely agree with the above comment that civil equality among all races and ethnicities and specifically in the African American community is and will continue to be a work in progress. The question remains, however, as to the exact nature of that work. Certainly, the black community starts off with distinct disadvantages. Segregation created differential education between blacks and the rest of American society. Coupled with discrimination in job opportunities, which persisted long after its illegality was established, the black community was set back decades in their progress towards socioeconomic equality. Even today blacks receive inferior education on average, are much poorer on average, and thus subsequent generations have a steeper hill to climb than the rest of society. As black comedian Chris Rock puts it, “The black man must fly to what the white man can walk to.” This brings us to affirmative action. All of us in the college world that went through the admissions process understand that minority candidates often are admitted ahead of white candidates despite equal or lesser scores and grades. I will not spend time debating the virtue of this, I will simply state it as a fact. Governments and businesses also have instituted programs in order to encourage the opportunities given to blacks and other minorities. I will take an example from the business world. My father was for a long time in charge of hiring for his law firm. His firm had a program wherein a certain number of minority candidates had to be considered and their hiring was HIGHLY encouraged. However, this program encountered problems. My father recounted that, unfortunately, the failure rate for minority hires admitted through this program was much higher than that of general employees. And now the question presents itself: is affirmative action and programs akin to that the answer to the upward mobility of the African American community? Where does responsibility for black ascendance lie? To what extent is the government responsible? To what extent, despite predetermined disadvantage, does the black community itself hold responsibility for its own progress? These are questions both controversial and paramount for the future of African Americans and the political world. Perhaps the only thing that is certain, is that the mission Dr. King set out on is not yet completed.

  4. Sam Salzman permalink
    January 20, 2011 2:45 PM

    I personally believe that there is substantial racial injustice in America today. There have been psychological studies done where landlords renting apartments were called by a person who spoke perfect, vernacularly that is, English and asked to rent space. Also part of the experimenters called the landlords and spoke with Black English Vernacular (BEV) and other various accents of minorities and asked for the same space. The landlord chose to respond only to the one who seemed white in nearly every scenario. Then to go even further in depth, the experimenters didn’t even call the landlords, but instead emailed them. They sent two of the exact same email with different names signed at the bottomt. In one scenario they signed with a typical John Smith or Michael Adams, while in the other signed with ethnic sounding names such as Praneeth Vadaguiri. Ninety percent of the emails from the white sounding name were responded to, compared to the miniscule six percent of the ethnic emails receiving follow up emails. People who say racial injustice is inexistent are ignorant and need to open their eyes to the real world.

  5. John D'Adamo permalink
    January 20, 2011 6:54 PM

    kasnetz, the topic of affirmative action is one I struggle with. On one hand, I’m not sure it’s fair that if there are three men, equally qualified, applying for a position, that the two men that are Black and Hispanic get a leg up. On the other hand, as my 2010 census study shows and as Sam pointed out, people who are white are given a leg up in society continually if unchecked. I think that instead of affirmative action, we need to promote education in minority-rich environments where the schools are crumbling, so that more people of all races can become doctors, mathematicians, and veterinarians in the future, and we need to increase funding for small businesses in the areas to give an incentive to hire at a fair wage.

    On the other hand, I agree with Sam in that there is much work to be done to solve racial injustice, and it becomes a question of how can we solve it? One answer is that racism will erode over time, and that landlord that only liked the white applicants will die out and a new, more tolerant landlord will take his place. Another is that state-instituted methods to ensure diversity are embraced, similar to an affirmative action idea. I think it’s better to educate the populace and continually push King’s idea that people with different skin color and accent are still equal, and that in time the masses of intolerance will go out with a whimper.

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