Monday, January 21, 2008

The King and I

The following was written by Willie Clark for the Orlando Sentinel...

On this MLK holiday, end King-baiting

King baiting is rampant these days. King-baiting?

I'm talking about the tried and true practice of invoking the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s name whenever someone wants to curry favor, assuage anger, rebut arguments or influence decisions by African-Americans. Regardless of political persuasion, King-baiting has become standard operating procedure in the past few years.Today, on the national holiday on which we honor the civil-rights icon, let's talk honestly about King-baiting.

For instance, when the media reported "allegedly racist" comments about blacks and welfare in his newsletter, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee responded, "Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were my heroes." End of discussion. Hillary Clinton riled some African-Americans when she said. "Dr. King's dream of racial equality was only realized when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964." That seemed innocent enough, but many thought she suggested Johnson deserved more credit than King for the passage of civil-rights legislation. Clinton's example of King-bating backfired, too.

Memo to the world: African-Americans revere, celebrate and appreciate everything Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did for the advancement of our race. We honor the supreme sacrifice he made. However, we don't genuflect and comply at the mere mention of his name. King would not have wanted it that way. He fought and died so that all Americans, especially black people, would have the right to speak their mind and make their own decisions. That's something that whites and blacks alike too often forget.

King-baiters usually employ one of three quotes. We've heard them time and time again: "I have a dream," "the content of our character not the color of our skin," and "little black boys and little black girls join hands with little white boys and little white girls."

The endless repetition and focus on these three snippets of words have reduced one of the 20th century's great thinkers to a few lines from one speech. On this holiday honoring him, it would be beneficial to revisit some of the things he said beyond those in his landmark "I Have a Dream" speech:
"Peace is not just the absence of conflict but also the presence of justice." Many laud King's call for peace and nonviolence but, when it comes to the issue of justice, they fall short. In 2007, the Justice Policy Institute released a report detailing disparities in drug sentences for whites and blacks in Central Florida, despite the fact that both races use, sell and transport illegal drugs at roughly the same rate. Last year, the Jena Six, Genarlow Wilson and Shaquanda Cotton cases highlighted the inequities of our justice system in other regions of the country. Despite all of this, year after year, these discrepancies go unaddressed. Justice for all is the cornerstone of our democracy. Neither the United States nor Central Florida will be what it was intended to be until there is fairness in our courts.
"There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of people in that society who feel they have no stake in it; who feel they have nothing to lose. People who have a stake in their society protect that society, but when they don't have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it." The carnage in our low-income communities is well-documented. The collateral damage is a loss of a sense of safety for the entire community, which takes its toll both emotionally and financially while diminishing our quality of life. There is an extreme sense of disconnect among residents in disadvantaged communities, particularly among the youth. Real or imagined, they believe our system is working against them. Our society needs new and innovative efforts to bring them into the fold both educationally and economically. We can and we must do more.
"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality...I believe unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word." The large number of whites supporting Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton's enormous support among black women and the small but significant increase in the ranks of black Republicans are testaments to America's changing attitudes about race. In coming decades, the unenlightened minds that seek to keep us divided will become extinct. As King said, "We as a people will get to the promised land."

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