It’s not a secret; I’m white. When people see me, they identify me as Caucasian; which has afforded me opportunities that others with different skin pigmentation do not receive, and I should be aware of that fact. Not only is this something I should be aware of, but I should also be fighting to ensure that those around me receive the same opportunities I receive. It is difficult to get outside of our own perceptions of reality and see that the world isn’t equal. There are not equal opportunities for all people, not even for those who try to struggle against the grain to obtain them.
A year and a half ago our church youth group went on a mission trip to Atlanta. We spent our time in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. grew up. We visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, the APEX Museum, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Visitor Center, and several other sites that are closely associated with the Civil Rights Movement. It was there in Martin Luther King Jr.’s boyhood neighborhood that the awareness overwhelmed me that years of sustained prejudice, abuse, and subjugation are not able to be overcome in the 56 years since segregation ended. It is not possible to recover the amount of time, education, money, representation, and resources members of the black community were deprived from in a single generation.
In my opinion, one of the most jarring and painful numbers ever penned on a paper is the number three-fifths. This, according to the US Constitution written in 1789, was the way African-American slaves were counted—as three-fifths of a person—in determining population for the purpose of calculating states’ representation in Congress. How does a group recover from being treated in this manner for their first 74 years of existence in this country (The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in 1863)?
What most people want to do is gloss over the fact that it took another 101 years for the Civil Rights Act to be signed into law in 1964. This act finally outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The fact of the matter is that African-American people may have been freed from the chains of slavery; but for 101 more years, they were subjugated by the mental slavery of discrimination based upon the color of their skin. Although African-American men were given the right to vote in 1870, they were subjected to a rigorous attempt to keep them from doing so, in the hope that they never would be able to elect officials who would share their same values. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of August 6, 1965 that African-American women were given the right to vote. For the first 189 years our country existed, African-American men and women were not allowed to elect representation in government that reflected their values.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He died still trying to get equal access to basic necessities for African-American people. Before his death, the Fair Housing Act; which outlawed housing discrimination in the form of the sale, rental, and financing based upon race, color, religion, and national origin had failed to gain traction in both the House and the Senate. This means that on April 4, 1968, people still believed it was valid to discriminate against African-American people in order to keep them renting, buying, and selling only homes that Caucasian people “thought” they should have. Seven days after Dr. King’s death (April 11, 1968), the Fair Housing Act was finally signed into law.
The Urban League has created something called an Equality Index. This index helps measure African Americans against their Caucasian counterparts. The metric measures opportunities that African American people are given in the areas of economics, health, education, civic engagement, and social justice. The recent Equality Index study from the Urban League stated that African-Americans are at 72.5% when it comes to achieving equal opportunities with Caucasian Americans. The State of Black America finds that the Equality Index for African Americans has barely moved since 2005 when the study began. Entrenched financial disparities have made it hard for African Americans to achieve equality.
In the fifty-two years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, we’ve come a long way; but we still have a long way to go. We must realize that during the first one-hundred-ninety-two years of our nation’s existence, before the laws against African-American people were defeated, scripture has always remained the same. In Galatians 3:28 we see the Apostle Paul saying, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” These words have always been in scripture; but people have decided to look the other way, or act as if the words’ meaning didn’t apply to their discriminatory behavior.
It took our country one-hundred-ninety-two years to offer African-American people equal opportunities. Shame on us! But let us not continue to live a lie claiming that because laws have been changed, everything is alright. Fifty-two years is not enough time for the harm that has been caused to be undone. A wrong that took six generations commit will not be turned around in less than two.
How can we believe that the wealth, the education, the housing, the business, and the representation in government is going to completely turn itself around just because we say so? We must continue to fight for equal opportunities for all people but especially for those who have faced the uphill battle of discrimination. My belief is that a crime which took six and a half generations to commit will take at least that long to be undone.
In my office there hangs a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and underneath the picture is a caption stating, “I have a dream!” Let us not give up fighting to keep the dream alive so that all people have the same opportunities to succeed and become all that God desires for them to be.