Today would have marked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 89th birthday. It has been 50 years since his assassination in Memphis, TN. The world has changed since his untimely death, and not how he (or we) would have imagined. It is no doubt that the ongoing struggles of the nation to live up to its promises would give Dr. King much heartache were he to witness it today. I imagine him lamenting in utter disgust by the endless partisan divisiveness of politics in Washington and the unrighteous influence of corporate power and neoliberal policies aimed at enriching the already wealthiest among us at the expense of the common man trying to build his dreams in a seemingly free society. Dr. King, for sure, would fall to his knees in dismay if he knew how systemic white racism festered and accelerated in the hearts and minds of men, women and children since his parting. And I am certain he would recoil at the thought of how US culture has managed to devolve to such an extent as to actually produce yet another openly racist president.
Donald Trump’s latest disparaging remarks with regards to “shithole” countries and his efforts to keep those citizens out of the United States, though insensitive, vulgar and insulting, were not terribly shocking. After all, his xenophobic mindset was known prior to and throughout his presidency. But to see the so-called “leader of the free world” in the 21st century perched behind the walls of the White House speak wretchedly about these nations, not coincidentally comprised of black and brown folks, is an unprecedented moment in history. Despite these high stakes, most white conservative Americans (and a handful of confused Americans of color), including many who have checked out of reality, awkwardly choose to ignore his racist behavior. This Week reported that a record-breaking number of House Republicans plan to not seek re-election in 2018. For some, the embarrassment, chaos and association with the Trump administration is no longer worth it. Their departure and silence, however, speaks volumes to the resilient nature of racist thinking in America—a dangerous display to the world who mistakenly looks to the US as an example of well-honed “democracy”—as it suggests complicity on some level with the president, his subordinates and their disturbing white nationalist agenda.
White supremacy, heterosexism, capitalism and other forms of interlocking social inequities are not modern-day inventions. These systems of domination were socially engineered by early European and European American colonizers to gain control not only over raw materials and resources but also over the existential—the narrative of the body. Given what we know about how Africa has been negatively mythologized in the white imagination as a backward society, the moniker—the dark continent—is suggestive of a region of the world devoid of light or progress. In addition, these white men brought with them from Europe to North America religious thought about the place of women, the position of the poor and the centrality of Christianity. These ideas were inclusive of Northern Europeans and dismissive of those from southern and eastern Europe. Many of these same beliefs have withstood the test of time, as apparent in Trump’s statement. In fact, the disjuncture between what we profess, believe and actually do to improve the lives or our citizens (in part) has led to the current neoliberal political state of affairs.
The failure of democracy is not the fault of “shithole” countries inhabited by black people. Rather this is another attempt to distract the American people while furthering the political interest of the white ruling elite. In truth, most politicians do not represent the interest of the people; instead, they do the bidding of dozens of lobbyists, hoping to entice favorable legislation to benefit the boardroom of the top 1%. After all, if the voice and will of the people mattered, corporations would not be considered “persons,” tax cuts would benefit middle class Americans, healthcare would be a staple for everyone. These majority white men and their actions are anything but democratic.
Just one day after Trump purportedly described several black and brown nations countries to be “shitholes,” he gave a clumsily scripted speech about the greatness of MLK and his fight for racial equality. The irony was not lost on anyone listening with half a brain. The focus of his statement would be better spent coming to terms with Dr. King’s immortal words that, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
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