Friday, October 07, 2011

Human Rights: Using the King memorial to live out his legacy

Using the King memorial to live out his legacy

by Nadra Kareem Nittle

Los Angeles, California - Scores of celebrations will take place in Washington, DC in conjunction with the 16 October dedication ceremony of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. However, 43 years after King’s assassination, his dream has yet to be fulfilled.

As we dedicate his memorial, each of us should look back on his dream for equality, justice and peace in our country and the world, and remember that King’s vision extended well beyond race.

Just before his life abruptly ended, King had been working to direct national attention to poverty. In 1968, the Poor People’s Campaign took place in Washington, DC. King’s cohorts organised this protest after his death to demand that the government provide homes, jobs and resources to underprivileged Americans. Surely King would be disappointed to know that today 46.2 million Americans live in poverty – an all-time high since the 1950s when the government began recording such numbers.

While the poverty rate will hopefully improve as the nation rebounds from the economic downturn, the racial wealth gap may remain static. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for example, found that some US companies unlawfully discriminate by rejecting job applicants with poor credit histories. This disproportionately affects minorities: in 2007 the Federal Trade Commission found that 26 per cent of African Americans were in the group of people with the lowest ten per cent of credit scores, with ten per cent of Hispanics and seven per cent of whites.

Minority groups not only face disadvantages in employment but also in the financial sector. The New York Times reported, in December 2009, that during the real estate boom, banking institutions gave blacks and Latinos sub-prime loans that were more likely to result in defaults, even when they qualified for low-interest loans. The resulting foreclosures were economically devastating to minorities.

We would also do well to realise that King not only advocated for economic justice but also for peace. He objected to US involvement in the Vietnam War. In his 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence,” he characterised war as an unjust way to settle differences and criticised the government for prioritising war over improving society. Even in cases of liberation, which was the argument used to support US involvement in the Vietnam War, King believed that our government should prioritise programmes of social improvement over military spending. Unfortunately, not much has changed, with US troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly a decade.

The very public dedication of King’s memorial should serve as inspiration to live out King’s dream.

But what would living out King’s dream of racial and economic justice and peace look like? When it comes to combatting poverty in minority communities, companies could level the playing field for workers of colour by looking beyond credit history to consider applicants’ skill level and past work references.

To assist with minority recruitment, companies could also reach out to established civil rights groups to help spread the word about job opportunities to minorities – as they did in the 1950s and 1960s. And banks should provide black and Latino communities the same opportunities for low-interest loans as their white counterparts.

While I believe some money must go toward defence for the purpose of homeland security, counterterrorism efforts and support for liberation movements abroad, in the spirit of King, this should not come at the expense of assistance for those in need.

If defence remains the key priority for government funding, programmes that help those in need will suffer. In response to this reality, the Congressional Progressive Caucus released a fiscal plan called “The People’s Budget” in April, which did not pass the House of Representatives. This plan advocated the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and cuts military funding. Unlike the budget plans released by the GOP and President Barack Obama, this plan did not advocate reducing funding for human needs programmes.

To truly live King’s legacy, we should support programmes and practices like these – ones that ensure a just, equitable and peaceful future for all Americans.


* Nadra Kareem Nittle has a MA in Teaching English and Comparative Literary Studies from Occidental College in Los Angeles and is the author of numerous articles and essays about race. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews)
Copyright permission is granted for publication.