Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Are we going backwards?

Yesterday was Barack Obama's second inauguration as President, and the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as well. As expected, the festivities of the day included a number of references to Dr. King as well as our sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln.

America's first black President, elected to a second term, sworn into office on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, taking the oath with the Bible of the President who freed the slaves. It should have been a triumph for civil rights...but is it really?

By the standards traditionally used to measure social and economic success, America's black population is struggling: unemployment rate, education, broken families, percentage who are currently or have been in prison. It's depressing and frustrating, and in many cases, the numbers are worse now than they were four years ago (most notably the number who are unemployed).

Is it possible that, after four years with our first black President, black people in America are now less free than they were before?

That's a controversial thing to say, but part of what makes someone "free" is the ability to support themselves and their family on their own. If you can't find a good-paying job and can't afford to rent a decent apartment, much less ever hope to buy your own home, are you free? Or are you beholden to whoever it is that puts food on your table and a roof over your head?

Now, welfare is not slavery, but I believe that those who fought to end slavery wanted the freed slaves and their descendants to be able to stand proudly on their own two feet, and I cannot accept that Dr. King would call generation after generation living on welfare, undereducated and never realizing their potential, a success.

Image: Buzzfeed

We desegregated the schools only to end up decades later with far too many children trapped in failing schools - an epidemic of substandard education that disproportionately affects minorities. I always had classmates from all different backgrounds in school with me, and I was blessed to have excellent public schools in the neighborhood where I grew up. I wish every child in America could have this same opportunity.

These problems are not all Obama's fault - they existed before he was president, and they will exist after he is out of office. I merely seek to pose the question whether his election, and reelection, are actually a civil rights triumph, or merely a hollow, symbolic-only victory?

It's broader than just politics. Think about this - almost thirty years ago, the Cosby Show debuted, featuring comedian Bill Cosby playing a doctor, his attorney wife, and their five children. A black man, married to the mother of his children, with both spouses college educated and encouraging their children to pursue their own educational goals. Where can you find a show like that today, featuring characters of any race?

Family values and awesome sweaters = win win

I won't pretend I have the answers, but I do think it's fair to say that the current situation isn't how things ought to be. It's worth asking why we keep pursuing so many of the same policies that have such disastrous track records. Continuing to accept the status quo as yet another generation is lost doesn't sound like Abraham Lincoln's version of the American dream, or Dr. King's...and it shouldn't be ours either.

I'm not sure how many feathers I'll ruffle with this post, but I'm hoping to start an interesting discussion. I think the greater civil rights victory isn't electing yet another Ivy League educated attorney to be President, but when a little black boy in the poorest of Washington, D.C.'s public schools has the chance to pursue his dreams, wherever they may take him.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Please check out my friend Demetrius Minor's excellent post at the FreedomWorks blog here on a similar issue:

FreedomWorks | To Celebrate MLK’s Legacy Is To Embrace Freedom

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