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My Turn: Miles away from ‘the sunlit path of racial justice’

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, D.C. in this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo. (AP Photo/File)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, D.C. in this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo. (AP Photo/File)

Fifty years after the March on Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told the nation about his dream of racial justice, are we ready to sing, in the words of the old Negro spiritual he quoted, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we’re free at last”?

After all, Jim Crow segregation has been vanquished. The 1964 prediction – in capital letters no less – by the publisher of the Union Leader that passage of the Civil Rights Act would “PRACTICALLY MEAN THE END OF THE TOURIST BUSINESS IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS, LAKES REGION AND BEACHES” proved to be unfounded.

Signs at New Hampshire’s grand hotels that once read “No Negroes, Jews, or Dogs” are long gone. “Whites only” signs are found only in museums. Not only that, civil rights protections in employment, housing and public accommodations have been extended to people with disabilities and, in many states, to lesbians and gays. We’ve clearly made historic progress.

But before we declare this a “post-racial” era and start singing “We Have Overcome,” let’s take a closer look. Empirical data shows that black Americans still carry an undue burden of inequities in wealth, employment and the criminal justice system.

The occasion for the 1963 march was the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the occupied South. “One hundred years later,” King said, “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.”

On the 150th anniversary of emancipation, the statistics are still pretty stark.

For example, as unemployment rates fluctuate, the black unemployment rate is consistently twice the white rate. That’s one of the factors behind a February 2013 Brandeis University report that the wealth gap between white and black families tripled from 1984 to 2009.

“Our analysis found little evidence to support common perceptions about what underlies the ability to build wealth, including the notion that personal attributes and behavioral choices are key pieces of the equation.”

“Instead,” wrote the authors, from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, “the evidence points to policy and the configuration of both opportunities and barriers in workplaces, schools, and communities that reinforce deeply entrenched racial dynamics in how wealth is accumulated and that continue to permeate the most important spheres of everyday life.”

For another way to look at the same numbers, take a look at the 2013 State of the Dream report from United for a Fair Economy. They say that in 2010, the most recent year for which they had statistics, “white families held on average more than six times as much net wealth as Black families and nearly six times as much as Latino families.” Moreover, families of color were harder hit in the wealth department by the recent recession than their white counterparts.

Take another issue: incarceration rates. According to an analysis by The Sentencing Project, 38 percent of people in state or federal prisons in 2011 were black, 35 percent were white, and 2 percent were Hispanic. One in every 13 black males ages 30 to 34 was in prison in 2011, as were 1 in 36 Hispanic males, compared to 1 in 90 white males in the same age group.

Black males have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; Hispanic males have a 17 percent chance; white males have a 6 percent chance. The rate of black incarceration is so high, and the legal consequences for felons so severe, that scholars such as Michelle Alexander have labeled the phenomenon as “the new Jim Crow.”

We may in fact have risen from the “dark and desolate valley of segregation,” but we are still miles away from “the sunlit path of racial justice” described on that day in 1963.

So as we recall King’s soaring rhetoric five decades ago, let us renew our own commitment that we will never turn back until justice roars down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

(Arnie Alpert of Canterbury was communications coordinator for the grassroots campaign for New Hampshire to observe a state holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.)

Legacy Comments16

Not to worry, the past in regards to racism is being kept alive by folks like Sharpton and Jackson. And we have quite a few Dems around who also are fanning the fires of racism. This is very sad to me. We have a black man in the WH who could get up there and be a role model for blacks. Inspire them to achieve, and overcome obstacles. Instead he does the opposite.

Jesse Jackson or Sharpton could have written this article. I have not seen in the media stories of blacks that have stated they were wrongly accused and sent to prison. I would think that if that were the case, it would be front page. I also see no discussion of what is being done to help these communities where blacks are killing each other. Instead I see that folks want Stop and Frisk in NYC outlawed, even though it has reduced crime. Many of those neighborhoods feel safer since stop and frisk came into play. Nobody is talking about the breakdown of family, unwed moms having babies, and gun laws not being enforced in those areas. Gangs and Drugs, enforced by the music industry with their hate lyrics. Nobody is talking about why they are against school vouchers to get kids out of the poor neighborhoods into a better school. Instead we talk about racism, instead of why Blacks are still struggling and how to help them.

Wow, you've missed a lot! Your local public library would be a good place to start catching up on the pros and cons of all of the above.

Do you think your statistic re: blacks serving more time in prison is proof of discrimination or because they committed more crime? What do you thin think Rev. MLK would say about our wave of black on white murders?

obviously the cops are racists

Oh, the horror! A WAVE of black on white murders! How many constitute a wave? On the other hand, how about the totally unjust fixture of our legal environment known as the war on drugs? Real honest to goodness institutionalized racial discrimination. Not a few - albeit horrid - anecdotes.

Grac- How would you feel if the dead or traumatized were members of your family? So easy to dismiss then?

I would feel awful, as would you. That isn't the point, though, is it? The point is that there is a racial component to American justice that one political wing is happy to ignore. To paraphrase Stalin: One white person killed by a person of color is a tragedy; tens of thousands of unjustly imprisoned black people is a statistic.

Grac- so the lopsided stats on prison are proof of discrimination-nothing to do with who committed crimes? We have to look at both sides of those data.

Look at the Once again, those who forget the past.... After decades of hugely disparate treatment of powder cocaine (mostly a vice of white people) and crack cocaine (mostly a minority problem) one should have seen the racial bias in the law. There are real, dangerous criminals among the dark-skinned communities in America; but by and large it's mostly an ongoing case of blaming the victim.

Grac, I see you are right. A sample of today’s headlines. Proof positive our culture is racist. “DHS employee (black) behind website promoting race war on paid leave” “Kids (black) bully toddler and make her (white) cry” A group of kids and a pre-teen bully a three year old girl and make her cry at least twice on camera. The cameraman (a 12 year old boy) brags on Facebook and titled his video "When white people piss black people off." (watch this video if you have the guts) “Teens (black) face ethnic intimidation charges after brutally beating woman (white) in North Side” “Allegedly unprovoked assault of 71-year-old New Haven man (white) leads to multiple charges” “Jersey City high school candidate for student gov't (black) sent racist texts to himself, school official says”

Here's how the Right Wing operates. Did anybody ever claim that all black people are totally innocent? That black people commit no crime? That no black people commit violent offenses (some truly heinous) against white people? Funny thing - black people are human beings with the full set of failings. Here's the distinction. The institutions of this country were created and have been administered by white people since 1607; and the institutions have been very often created or administered with sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle racial bias. That said, bring on your anecdotes. You'll feel better.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that in 2010, there were about 320,082 black-on-white crimes of violence, as compared to some 62,593 of the white-on-black variety.

Grac - First time I heard from this forum the percentage of blacks in prison might be something other than pure discrimination. Yes we all have failings, no group is pure, all have success & failures but getting that out in the open is important. That was a big step. OBTW, those reports were from a single day and only the ones that made the news. When does the incidences cross the line from anecdotes actually being labeled a statistic?

Reply to TCB below: "When does the incidences cross the line from anecdotes actually being labeled a statistic?" Simple answer: once all data, for a given period of time, has been collected. The latest year for which we have such data is 2010. Here are two examples from that data. "Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates,..." http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/us/marijuana-arrests-four-times-as-likely-for-blacks.html?_r=0 "Whites are 6 times as likely to be murdered by another white person as by a black person; and overall, the percentage of white Americans who will be murdered by a black offender in a given year is only 2/10,000ths of 1 percent (0.0002). This means that only 1 in every 500,000 white people will be murdered by a black person in a given year. Although the numbers of black-on-white homicides are higher than the reverse (447 to 218 in 2010), the 218 black victims of white murderers is actually a higher percentage of the black population interracially killed than the 447 white victims of black murderers as a percentage of the white population. In fact, any given black person is 2.75 times as likely to be murdered by a white person as any given white person is to be murdered by an African American." http://www.timwise.org/2013/08/race-crime-and-statistical-malpractice-how-the-right-manipulates-white-fear-with-bogus-data/

Reply to GWTW below: I think your post on black on white crime demonstrates the power of statistics to mislead. The unexamined statistic is not worth posting (Apologies to H.D. Thoreau). And we won't mention either the reprehensible intent behind such postings, or the sources that propagate such statistics, except to point out this is happening in a supposedly "post-racial" era, 50 years after MLK's great speech. Here's why your statistic is misleading: First, since whites far outnumber blacks, the chances of a black encountering a white are far greater than the chances of a white encountering a black. This means whites are more likely to be victimized by black criminals than blacks are to be victimized by white criminals. In fact, thanks to the lingering effects of segregation, I'd bet that black on white crime is lower than might be expected from crime rates in general. And I'd also bet that white on black crime is more common than chance alone would predict, thanks again to the 'lingering' effects of racism in our post-racial nation. But thanks for posting such a revealing comment.

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