Happy MLK Day

Listening to the MLK speech today, I find that these words are perhaps more pertinent today than ever:

“we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.
One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. ”

But let’s expand “Negro” to include all impoverished people and minorities in the US. Has anything improved since Dr. King’s time?

I say no. The nature of segregation and marginalization has only taken on more insidious forms.

We face the largest gap between rich and poor in American history. Double digit unemployment that disproportionately hits the poor and minorities. A populace that views poverty as the result of laziness and stupidity. A populace that views efforts at providing health care for the poor as “communist”, health care that ideally should be a basic and fundamental right of a free society that espouses “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Social mobility in the United States in 2011 is largely a myth, most wealth being gained by inheritance, all the while Americans clinging to fantasies that riches arise from “hard work.” Tea Partiers and Libertarians and Constitutionalists are all suspiciously silent as to the solutions to poverty.

The lynchings may be over, but a vast for-profit prison complex serves that same insidious purpose, disproportionately jailing and isolating African-Americans and minorities, through an evil confluence of corrupt businessmen and racist policy-makers.

Worse yet, we maintain an apartheid in this country based no longer on skin color, but on the color of one’s passport and the language of one’s household. We have created a new slave underclass to work on plantations to insure the profits of a few wealthy conglomerates and have states that seek to create laws to marginalize them and their families further.

Even worse yet, is the mantra of white superiority that is etched on the minds of Americans, that rewrites and sanitizes history to serve it’s ends and propagates lies to win it’s political war against the poor.

So America celebrates Mr. King. They celebrate the sanitized and sweetened King. They do not celebrate the angry and outraged King that fought against the roots of injustice that pollute every facet of American society. The King that people wanted to kill. The very same people that are still alive today, and still vote.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

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