On today’s 50th anniversary of the tragic assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the visionary dream of the 20th-century’s leading civil-rights champion for a color-blind America remains very much a work in progress.
A passing glance at the results of a poll released a few days ago by the Associated Press poignantly hammers home that point.
In that survey of the racial attitudes of 1,337 adults representative of the U.S. population, the findings are at once enlightening and disheartening. Among the most astonishing conclusions are these:
Only 8 percent of blacks believe much progress has been made in securing equal economic opportunities since King’s untimely death on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968.
Only 5 percent of African-Americans believe progress has been achieved in police treatment of black suspects.
And only 6 percent of U.S. blacks believe the criminal justice system has made significant strides in fair and equitable treatment of African-Americans.
Unfortunately, those bleak perceptions are supported by real-life trends.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, economic inequality festers. The ratio of white-to-black workers in high-paying jobs is about 10 to 1 in management, 8 to 1 in computers, 12 to 1 in law and 7 to1 in education.
The picture is not any prettier when looking at police brutality in African-American communities, a prime target of Dr. King’s mission.
A recent Stanford University study concluded that black drivers are far more likely to be stopped, ticketed, searched and arrested than whites. And highly publicized shootings of young unarmed black men by police continue to rile the nation. Just last month, unarmed 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot and killed in a fusillade of bullets by two Sacramento, Calif., officers. Clearly, equality for all eludes many in black America in 2018.
‘BULLIES AND BIGOTS’
As former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a gathering at the National Civil Rights Museum earlier this week, “We’re still marching, we are still striving, and we’re still calling on our nation’s leaders to act with a sense of justice, compassion and common humanity.
“The unfortunate fact is that in 2018, America’s long struggle to overcome injustice, to eliminate disparities and eradicate violence has not yet ended, and the age of bullies and bigots is not fully behind us.”
Holder, himself an African-American, served as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer in the administration of President Barack Obama, the first black chief executive of this nation.
Many had great hopes that the election of Obama would usher in a progressive “post-racial” era in American life. Cold, hard and racially-tinged realities epitomized by a movement questioning the president’s citizenship and his legitimacy as the nation’s president dashed those hopes quickly.
And in the 15 months since Obama left office, those “bullies and bigots” of which Holder spoke have seemingly gained a stronger foothold in the White House.
One need only harken back to last summer, when President Donald J. Trump suggested moral equivalence between the Ku Klux Klan and anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville, Va. Earlier this year, Trump used a vile expletive in describing African nations.
It seems clear then that as a nation, we cannot look toward the White House for leadership in closing the pervasive and pernicious racial divide in this country.
Instead, those seeking to improve race relations will need to take other avenues and look inward. That effort can take strong root in local communities.
Religious and social leaders in the mold of King can make renewed commitments to battle hatred and prejudice.
Educational leaders can double down to recruit more blacks and minorities into learning programs that can help narrow the economic gap.
Police can undergo specialized training to better protect the black community.
One thing is clear, however. After 50 years of civil-rights activism in the aftermath of the golden era of MLK, our nation remains deeply divided and troubled.
Moving forward, we can best pay tribute to the legacy of Dr. King by acting constructively to inch closer and closer to eventual realization of his lofty but attainable dream of racial harmony.