By Dr. Earl Trent,
Today is the MLK birthday celebration. It has become a time I greet less enthusiastically each year. Not because of King. He was a brave warrior, brilliant scholar, extraordinary preacher and sacrificial leader. It is what we allowed the day to turn into. It has become a day of absolution, a day of release from obligation and guilt. It is a day of Inter-faith prayer services, concerts, a day for high school students to get their community service hours. It has become a day to pack books, paint parks, even feed some homeless folk. We remember the dream and forget the rage. We forget the palatable waves of white hate that formed like a wall in front of King and freedom fighters and white rage that foamed in their wake.
We forget or do not teach our people the depth of complacency that resided in government. At all levels – federal, state county local East West North and South blind eyes and deaf ears were turned away from the suffering of black people. Many whites can rightly say their families did not own slaves, but few can say they did not complacently go along or apathetically witness the grinding gears of segregation.
We as black folk forget and fail to teach that the hand on the economic spigot was not our color. It only grudgingly opened the valve for non-rich whites and let a few drops slip out for a handful of black Americans. Not even a talented tenth had their cups filled.
Redlining was not an accident or an anomaly. Capital denial was based on color not credit score. Union preferences for whites was a norm. Affirmative action was practiced regularly with everyday advantages, advancement, privilege and opportunities only for whites. Segregation was not a social practice it was an economic thumb on the scale and finger in the eye of black America. That was the world of King and the civil rights movement.
We have forgotten about the rage so deep and wide it is like an underground aquifer underneath the whole country. There was no place it did not reside. The 1966 campaign for open housing in Chicago was a failure. King and the movement retreated South never again to try up North.
In every black family there is a bottle. It contains a liquid so dark it almost ceases to be red and it so viscous it makes molasses seem like water. It is the historical horrors that gave us light palms, keen noses, hazel/green eyes and auburn hair. It is the bottle of dark secrets that you will not find on Ancestry.com. They spun no stories and told no tales. They would not let you drink from it even a sip could jam up your arteries, make our heart pound till it ached. Just its vapors could make you stroke out, paralyze you with a responsive rage that you would be unable to move through society in that smooth easy way lets you slide through unthreatening, smiling, hardly noticed or invisible.
King led a struggle that was not simply about who you could or could not date or marry, who you could sit by, where you could sit. It was a struggle to dismantle a system dedicated to denying our people the fruits of their labor and the fruits of a society that we helped to create.
The object was to put a dagger in the heart of Vampire economics. An economic practice where the life blood of black people, the creativity, the ingenuity, the athletic ability, the intellectual and physical resources is drained away and we become the zombie consumers buying staples and trinkets from anyone except our own. The stake was driven in and massive change has occurred, but it was not driven deep enough. Trickledown economics has taken its place and 40% of us live at the trickledown place of the economy known as the poverty line and down.
Without this historical context, the recognition of the magnitude of the hatred, rage and evil he faced then our activities of MLK day simply grant absolution without penance. Absolution without penance brings no substantial change. A history without context does not inspire. It simply drains the energy of the will to compete.