Nel's New Day

January 16, 2012

MLK Day 2012 Shows How Backward We’ve Become

Over half a century ago, a 26-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. led the boycott of segregated Montgomery (AL) buses; today we honor his memory by celebrating his birthday. Fifty-seven years later, what is our status on racism? Some believe that electing a black president of the United States means that we have achieved tolerance, that bigotry is gone. Looking closely at the culture of the nation today shows a far different picture.

Many of our nation’s “leaders” make racial remarks, sometimes unaware of how ignorant their statements are. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich  insulted black through the insinuation that these are the only poor people in the country and that they’re poor because they’re lazy.

Kansas Speaker of the House, Mike O’Neal, forwarded two emails, one calling the First Lady “Mrs. YoMama” and the other wishing Psalms 109:8 on Obama: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office,” a statement followed by “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” He said that forwarding the first one was an accident, “To those I have offended, I am sorry. That was not my intent.” [He certainly couldn’t admit that the content was wrong.] About the second email he said he didn’t really mean that he wanted President Obama to die—a statement commonly used by those who persist in sending out the email.

Earlier Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) declared Mrs. Obama a hypocrite for leading the Let’s Move campaign because she supposedly has a “large posterior.” Ironically, Sensenbrenner made his crude comment at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Hartford (WI) while talking with 72-year-old Ann Marsh-Meigs and other parishioners during the church’s Christmas bazaar.

The racial difference between the Democrat and Republican parties shows a clear polarity: Hispanics favor Obama over Romney by 68 to 23 percent while the Republican Party is 92 percent white. At the same time that seniors 65 years of age and older, overwhelmingly white, benefit from a Medicare plan far superior to that of President Obama’s health care plan, yet 50 percent of them oppose the Affordable Care Act.

These statistics may not indicate racism to deniers. We’ll continue. How about Republican methods of skewing the vote? Four years ago in South Carolina, the state holding a primary in five days, conservatives spread the false rumor that John McCain had illegitimately fathered a black child.

South Carolina is also one of several GOP-controlled states passing a law mandating voters to have government-issued photo identification. Many people without this photo ID remember the old poll taxes and literacy tests that led to the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, one of the most important victories of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the number of politicians who wander around claiming that there was no intent to disenfranchise minority voters—indeed it wouldn’t at all, according to them—a study shows that more than 5 million voters would lose their citizens’ rights, the majority of them minorities as well as young and old voters. In South Carolina, 82,000 registered minority voters lack state-issued identification, according to the state’s recent statistics.

Arizona, according to state law, terminated its ethnic studies program in Tucson because of the claim that classes designed to teach about a particular ethnic group “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” Faced with losing $14 million dollars in state funds, the city’s schools are even removing books on the basis of their ethnicity, literally taking them out of the hands of students. Even William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest has been taken from the classrooms. Teachers have been told to avoid any curriculum in which “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes.”

Another banned book in Tucson is Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, which was described as unbiased and factual by an independent audit of Tucson’s ethnic studies program commissioned by Arizona Supt. of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. He declared the Tucson program in violation of state law, and the board chose not to contest his decision in court.

In Tucson’s school district, founded by a Mexican-American, more than 60 percent of the students come from Mexican-American backgrounds. The administration has removed every textbook dealing with Mexican-American history, including Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales, featuring a biography of longtime Tucson educator Salomon Baldenegro.

An audit of students by David Scott, the school district’s director of accountability and research, found that students enrolled in the Mexican American Studies program did better than their peers. He wrote, “Juniors taking a Mexican American Studies course are more likely than their peers to pass the [state’s standardized] reading and writing … test if they had previously failed those tests in their sophomore year…. Seniors taking a Mexican American Studies course are more likely to persist to graduation than their peers.”

These narratives are only the tip of the iceberg, but they demonstrate the worsening state of affairs in this country. As the conservatives gain more power, they increase their bullying because they consider themselves the elite. To quote Joseph Welch who brought down Sen. Joe McCarthy during the 1950s witch hunt, “Have you no sense of decency?”

We’ll have to wait until at least one person in the nation is brave enough to ask the conservatives the same thing: “Have you no sense of decency?” WWKD: What would King do?

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