The time of Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of great crisis. The battle for civil rights was growing more aggressive and explosive, and the Vietnam War in all its deadliness was raging unabated. ?Granted, it is in times of crises that sentiments of unity through causes greater than the self, such as peace, social justice and equality, become more pronounced. ?But are we not in a time of crisis? ?Maybe we are lulled into thinking we are not, despite an ongoing, costly war in Iraq and disturbing societal circumstances of blatant inequity. ?However, by way of an artificially comforting status quo that has managed to settle upon our consciousness, the idea that there is nothing left to struggle together for has become embedded in the public mind. ?The common conscience, it seems, has been anesthetized. ?
The civil rights battle has been won nominally, but just because de jure segregation has ended, we know empirically that in many ways it still exists, de facto. ?Take a drive down the 405 freeway, exit Florence Avenue and head toward Inglewood, or get off the 10 freeway at Cesar Chavez Boulevard and drive through East Los Angeles. ?The fact that neighborhoods tend to segregate themselves by race is not as worrisome as the fact that neighborhoods made up of racial minorities tend to be economically destitute, lacking such basic civic necessities as decent, functional schools and reasonably easy access to health care. Our society is two-faced, providing vastly different living conditions for its poorest members, who are disproportionately the descendants of African slaves. ?In other words, we took several large, important steps during the civil rights movement, under the guidance of King, and then to a large degree, we seem to have stopped taking steps after his death. ?
We have forgotten his appeals to strive aggressively and collectively toward parity for all; we seem to have forgotten that creating a truly equitable society in which each member has truly equal access to the benefits of every institution endemic to a civil, developed society, regardless of race, really does benefit everyone on an individual level, as well a holistic one. ?
In this country, we take unearned pride in our supposed adherence to vague proclamations of “liberty” and “freedom,” fuzzy ideas for which many now lie dead. ?But one must wonder what King would think of the conditions we have allowed to persist today. ?How would he react to the fact that African Americans have disproportionately low access to adequate health care and primary education, to higher education, or to property ownership? We must be willing to invest as a society in all members equally, otherwise we are in many ways only giving lip service to Dr. King when we honor him.
Bethania Palma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.