What would Martin Luther King think of the world we live in today? Many people ask this question and many more after tragic events such as the killing of Mike Brown and the resulting protests in Ferguson, MO and across the country. I really began to take the question seriously after the murder of 12 year old Tamir Rice by police over a fake gun. When a child is killed and it is beginning to like like it was only because he was black and someone had thought he might be a threat, that is when you know the system is broken. That’s when I began to feel deeply, deeply, dissatisfied.
“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the fires of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until they who live on the outskirts of Hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heap of history and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home. Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into the bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.”
I believe that Dr. King would also find himself deeply dissatisfied at the progress we have made in this country, or lack thereof. I do not think this is the future America he dreamed of. We have the illusion of progress but not real progress. Or maybe we have taken a few steps forward in some ways and slid back in others. Or maybe it’s that there is just so much hate left in the world that real progress cannot be made. I’m not sure what our excuse is but I am sure we are still far behind where we could or should be. I know that we have gotten far off course and that we must begin to make things right.
In case you aren’t already, here are a few statistics that should make you feel dissatisfied too:
- Black students accounted for 18 percent of the country’s pre-K enrollment, but made up 48 percent of preschoolers with multiple out-of-school suspensions. Preschoolers! [source]
- Black students were expelled at three times the rate of white students. [source]
- Black girls were suspended at higher rates than all other girls and most boys. [source]
- Nearly half of the nation’s Black students attend high schools in low-income areas with dropout rates that hover in the 40-50% range. [source]
- 24.7% of all African-American live in poverty in comparison to 8.6% of all non-Hispanic White, 11.8% of all Asian-American and 23.2% of all Hispanic. [source]
- The racial composition of the US prison and jail population as of 2008 was 60.21% (African American (non-Hispanic), 20.29% Hispanic, 13.44% White American (non-Hispanic) , and 6.06% Other (American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander American, and Multiracial American). [source]
- Blacks, age 15 to 19, are killed by police at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police. [source]
Reading all that how can we all not feel dissatisfied? I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where the above statistics are true. The above statistics aren’t even some of the worst of it. The statistics regarding black women specifically are even more grim. We all should be ashamed of ourselves, and we should all understand why there is so much frustration coming from minorities and people of color. No one ever said life was fair, but there are some people for whom society is unfairly unfair.
I don’t pretend to know how to fix any of this. The issues seem more complicated than I alone could find a solution to. I do know that the way to begin is simple enough. We must all do two things, for one we must learn to feel more empathy for our fellow human beings. We are all so alike and yet we imagine everyone else is an “other”. We refuse to listen to each other and call the “other” lazy, stupid, not a real part of the America we imagine. When we do this we are wrong. There is no “other”, there is only all of us and we are in this alone, and together, and we have to begin to give a shit about each other!
Secondly, we all have to speak up! Whether an issue concerns you or not doesn’t matter, you know injustice when you see it. Don’t pretend, don’t hide, don’t say it’s not your responsibility or place, speak up! Stop hearing the news and then going about your day as if people all over aren’t beig killed or jailed unjustly. Stop acting like you don’t know there are children homeless and starving and going to shitty schools that will just about guarantee they continue to be homeless and starving their whole lives. Or until they are jailed or killed unjustly.
That’s all it takes to start. That’s all we all have to do. Be nice to each other, think of one another, and speak up when something is wrong. We could all make a lot of change with just those two actions. I think then I, and the Martin Luther King that lives in us all, might find ourselves a little more satisfied with this world.