In the midst of a civil upheaval that threatened to erode the very structure that keeps us huddled together as a society, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of love and the need to overcome oppression without resorting to oppression. He spoke of ". a dream that one day this nation will rise up . (and) hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
So how stands this country now, 36 years after Dr. King gave his life for his dream?
In countless ways the problem of racism in America has improved. For example, much of society now accepts that black children ought to think, learn and share ideas in the same classrooms as white children. There is a logical progression - a better education leads to future possibilities and personal empowerment.
Racism today isn't so much about skin color as it is about cultural patterns wrought by slavery. It is about cultural division sewn so deeply into our social fabric, for so long, that white Americans have trouble imagining themselves as the "other" skin color. This elitism is poisonous because it helps maintain social hierarchies and leads white employers to make assumptions about minority workers, i.e., how a minority worker speaks means their problem-solving skills, communication skills and work ethic are deficient.
As long as hierarchies exist, the power structure will continue to make these misguided assumptions. I suspect that's why black Americans continue to lag far behind the average white, non-Hispanic family in terms of average per capita income. According to statistics from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, in 1965, black families earned on average 55 percent of what white families made. Today, black families earn 56 percent of what white families make. So, enough talk about how black Americans are making more than ever. The bottom line is that they're still at the back of the bus. The bus may have picked up speed, but the location of their seats hasn't changed. Narrowing this racial economic gap should be one of the most important goals of the civil rights movement. Without equality of employment, salary and wealth, there can be no social equality.
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