News Analysis By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – In the years since his assassination I have been troubled by what I consider to be the co-opting of Dr. King’s message, his essence and his persona. What has troubled me over the years is how Dr. King, the visionary, prophet, and revolutionary’s message, action, and ultimate sacrifice have been hijacked, compromised, and relegated to being those of just a dreamer.
People are comfortable with dreamers. Why? Dreamers are safe. To be a dreamer you must be in a restful state, usually asleep. Dreamers are docile, easy to manipulate, and non-threatening.
To cast Dr. King in the light of a dreamer allows people to be convinced that substantive change resulting from clear vision and direct action is not necessary. It allows the oppressed to be fooled into being patient and non-revolutionary or as Brother Malcolm would say hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok.
Just be patient, your quest for equality in America cannot disturb the fragile sensibilities of White America. For we’ll understand it better by and by.
Why have we been convinced that we must wait until the “saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome?” Our story, our truth, our reality needs to be told today! Right here right now!
As we look to this Friday, January 20 and the inauguration of our 45th President and celebrate the birth of Dr. King, this title, “Charging Forward, Changing the World” made me think about one of Dr. King’s seminal works, “Where Do We Go From Here – Chaos or Community?”
In this work, as Vincent Harding writes in the introduction, King insisted on constantly raising and reflecting on the basic questions he posed in the first chapter of the book, “Where Are We?” and in the overall title itself, “Where Do We Go From Here?”
The book was published in June 1967, and he was assassinated less than a year later on April 4, 1968. A year to day that he gave the address “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”
On Nov. 14, 1966 Dr. King gave a speech at a SCLC staff retreat at Frogmore which was an outline of the book to come. In the Frogmore speech he said, “I guess what I want to say tonight will be divided into three parts: First, from whence we have come. Secondly, where are we now, and thirdly, where do we go from here.”
So that our charge forward, as we go forth to change the world, is not reckless and without direction, we must first understand, from whence we’ve come.
I submit to you that our struggle in this country has never been about civil rights and it’s never been about human rights. Our struggle as formerly enslaved Africans has always been and continues to be for the recognition of our humanity. We struggle to simply be accepted us as human beings!
If you are an African-American and a janitor, if you are the county executive, a judge or a billionaire; if you get pulled over by a cop, you are now in fear for your life!
Current evidence of this thingness? Patrick Dorismond, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Trevon Martin, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Tanisha Grant, Yvette Smith, Miriam Carey. We know the names, we know the stories.
I am not saying that in the case of the police shootings that the officers intentionally shot their victims because of the color of their skin.
But the history and context in which these events occurred force me to ask would the police officers’ patterns of perception, logic and symbol formation have been different reacting to a white suspect or threat vs. a black/Hispanic suspect or threat? Would this difference in perception have resulted in a different emotional response? Would that different emotional response have given those individuals one more moment, one more instant of consideration, bringing about a different result – perhaps resulting in their lives being spared?
America has never reconciled its great contradiction. Dr. King wrote in Where Do We Go From Here – “The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony.”
What did President Obama talk about on the campaign trail, the middle-class, the middle-class. We’ve got to get people into the middle-class. Hillary as well. Even Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer talked about being able to get people into the middle-class and keeping them there in his first speech as minority leader.
Dr. King said, this middle-class discussion is a “fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity. Overwhelmingly America is still struggling with irresolution and contradictions.”
What are those contradictions? They are the contradictions that were baked right into the U.S. Constitution, the three-fifths clause – The Fugitive Slave Clause and Section 2, Clause 3, Article 1 Section 9 of the United States Constitution allowed for the importation of enslaved Africans for twenty years until January 1, 1808.
So, that’s from whence we have come. Stripping our ancestors of their humanity, relegating them to the position of property and codifying it in the founding documents of the country.
Now, some will say, “but Dr. Leon, all of those provisions have been removed from the Constitution. They are no longer the law of the land.” I would say that you are correct, but, that does not mean that those ideas have not become ideology, and formed the mores and values from which America continues to operate.
Dr. King wrote, that with the removal of these statutes and the passage of the Voting Rights Act there has been a struggle to “treat the Negro with a degree of decency, not of equality. White America was ready to demand that the Negro should be spared the lash of brutality and coarse degradation, but it never had been truly committed to helping him out of poverty, exploitation or all forms of discrimination.”
That’s not Dr. King, the “dreamer” that’s Dr. King the realist. He was as the young- in’s’ would say today, straight up woke!
He went on to say, “As the nation passes from opposing extremist behavior and more pervasive elements of equality, white America reaffirms its bonds to the status quo. It had contemplated comfortably hugging the shoreline but now fears that the winds of change are blowing it out to sea.”
That’s Dr. King the prophet taking us from 1967 to where are we now in 2017 and President-elect Trump.
So, where are we now?
Very simply put, we are in a period of what Dr. King called a period of white backlash. Dr. Ronald Walters called it the politics of resentment.
Dr. King wrote in 1967, “In several Southern states men long regarded as political clowns had become governors or only narrowly missed election, their magic achieved with a “witches” brew of bigotry, prejudice, half-truths and whole lies.” Sound familiar? Sound very reminiscently recently familiar? A “witches” brew of bigotry, prejudice, half-truths and whole lies.” Again folks, this is Dr. King the realist not the dreamer. Straight up woke.
On Friday, January 20 America will inaugurate a narcissistic misogynist man who marketed to the White backlash by playing down to racist sentiments, bigotry and hatred. Just as he stole the line “Make America Great Again” from Reagan’s campaign. Trump also stole the racist page from Reagan’s play book as Reagan launched his presidential bid in Philadelphia, MS; Trump fanned the flames of xenophobia and ill-founded fears of terrorism. His tweets and illogical rants were and continue to be a “witches” brew of bigotry, ignorance, prejudice, half-truths and whole lies.”
It’s imperative that we clearly understand that this white backlash as Dr. King called it is not new.
Very simply put, the election of Barack Obama as the first African American President of the United States. As Dr. Walters wrote in White Nationalism Black Interests – Conservative Public Policy and the Black Community “Within American society, which includes contending social groups, there exists a balance of power that conforms to that society’s racial composition”.
This balance must conform to the normal distribution of power if society is to remain in equilibrium. President Obama, in the minds of too many became an indicator that the normal distribution of power is askew, and is in jeopardy.
White backlash as Dr. King called it is not new. Let me give you some clear historical examples because these things don’t happen in a vacuum.
Let’s begin with the Dred Scott Case of 1857 – Dred Scott, born into slavery in VA in 1795–he sued for his freedom and won. Unwilling to accept the loss of the substantial money held in an escrow account for the services that he and his family had performed while the case was being heard, his owners appealed, won their appeal – the Scott’s were again considered slaves.
They appealed that decision to the US Supreme court and lost a 7-2 decision with Chief Justice Roger Taney issuing his infamous decision stating in part – “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into [the U.S.], and sold as slaves, whether enslaved or free, could not be an American citizen and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court …Negro’s are considered an inferior class of beings (there’s that thingness again) who had been subjugated by the dominant race and has not rights or privileges that whites are bound to respect.”
The Great Compromise of 1877 also known as the Tilden/Hayes Compromise. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was awarded the presidency over Democrat Samuel J. Tilden on the understanding that Hayes would remove the federal troops from the South. This brought an end to Reconstruction.
The Red Summer of 1919. As a result of race riots that occurred in more than three dozen cities Whites were attacking African Americans.
On May 31 and June 1, 1921, a white mob started the Tulsa race riot, attacking residents and businesses of the African-American community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in what is considered the worst incident of racial violence in United States History.
What contributed to backlash of The Red Summer of 1919 and the Tulsa Riot of 1921 was with the end of WWI jobs were scarce in Northern cities, whites were agitated and angry that AA’s returning from service with money, training and a new sense of self were demanding equality and demanding jobs.
In response to the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 the Virginia General Assembly passed the school-closing law and for the most part closed their public schools instead of integrating them. The Brown decision was the reversal of the Plessy decision that gave us separate but equal. The Prince Edward Foundation created a series of private schools to educate the county’s white children. Prince Edward Academy became the prototype for all-white private schools formed to protest school integration. No provision was made for educating the county’s black children.
Again, it’s imperative that we clearly understand that this white backlash as Dr. King called it or politics of resentment as Dr. Walters called it is not new. Things don’t happen in a vacuum.
How do we move forward; where do we go from here? As we charge forward how do we change the world?
Honestly, I don’t know. I wish I did. America has taken a giant step backwards.
I really thought that if this country learned nothing else from Reaganomics it learned as Samuel Yette wrote in his brilliant book The Choice, when humanistic services are withdrawn from the Black people, more whites suffer than Blacks.
Obviously, with the outcome of this election, America did not learn what I hoped it had learned.
However, history tells me that we are a hopeful people, a prayerful people and a resilient people.
We know what to do because we’ve done it before.
We must start reading and dedicating ourselves to educating ourselves. We must get a firm grasp on the issues surrounding us domestically and internationally and understand them within a broader historical context. We have the understand as Dr. King, Malcolm and William Patterson did that the solution of our domestic struggle lies within an international context.
Here’s just one example. Trumps economic plan is basically cut taxes for business and the wealthy and the economic power that is unleashed from that will trickle down to the rest of us. That’s what we called in the 80’s Reaganomics or “supply-side” economics. George Bush called it voo-doo economics. As Samuel Yette wrote in 1982 – it’s the new scheme to steal America. Now, much of the danger that was once secret and illegal is now either publicly acceptable and legal, or legally hidden from the public – like Trump’s taxes.
Understanding those issues we can then fully engage politically. As informed citizens and an informed community we can participate in the process from a position of informed individuals instead of wishful thinking and hope. We can hold our officials accountable and reward them when they meet their commitments and punish them when they don’t.
Finally, and this is very important to me. Too many of us in our community have lost the understanding that we have only made progress when the focus of our struggle has been based upon the success of the collective not the individual.
DuBois wrote about the Souls of Black Folk not the soul of one guy. Mrs. Hamer risked her life for the right to vote for all of us not just herself.
I will leave you with Dr. King, “It is time for the Negro middle class to rise up from its stool of indifference, to retreat from its flight into unreality and to bring its full resources-its heart, its mind and its checkbook-to the aid of the less fortunate brother and sister.
Where do we go from here, chaos or community?