The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 43 years ago on April 4, 1968. He was in Memphis, Tennessee supporting a group of sanitation workers who were on strike. In light of the erosion of workers rights by government officials like Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and others of his ilk it is not surprising that labour organizations in the USA are remembering King on April 4, 2011.
On April 4, 1967 one year before King was assassinated he delivered a speech at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City. In the speech entitled: Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, King voiced his reasons for speaking out against the Vietnam War. He spoke of the importance of recognizing that: "A time comes when silence is betrayal."
King’s words spoken more than four decades ago are still pertinent: These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries.
He could be speaking about the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa. His entire speech can be read at: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html
Today, April 4, 2011 how much or how little have the lives of racialized people especially African Americans changed? Even with an African American President, the USA remains a country where; according to a December 2007 study of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), "Race and Ethnicity in America," as of 2006, the incarcerated population of the U.S.A was 46 percent white, 41 percent African American and about one out of every six African-American males had experienced imprisonment. There is overwhelming evidence that the overrepresentation of African Americans in prisons is mostly because of a racist criminal justice system. According to the 2007 ACLU study, African Americans were 11 percent of Texas’ population, but 40 percent of the state’s prison population. African Americans in Texas are incarcerated at roughly five times the rate of whites. In spite of the fact that African Americans represent less than 10 percent of drug abusers, in Texas 50 percent of all prisoners incarcerated in state prisons and two-thirds of all those in jails for "drug delivery offenses" are African Americans.
On Tuesday, February 22, I interviewed Doris Elaine Smarr author of Tyranny in America: the new African American holocaust (published 2010) for the radio program Tuesday Word of Mouth at CKLN 88.1 FM in Toronto. Ms Smarr spoke very passionately of the miscarriage of justice that victimizes African Americans as they are “betrayed by law enforcement, the federal prosecutors and judges.” She spoke of large numbers of African Americans whose lives were destroyed in the billion dollar prison industry.
I also interviewed Dr. Umar R. Abdullah-Johnson a school Psychologist who has written an article entitled: Psycho-Slavery: Black Boys, White Female Teachers & The Rise of A.D.H.D. To quote Dr. Abdullah-Johnson: It has become a travesty of epic proportions; Black boys are being sent in record numbers to the psychiatrist for mind-altering medications that come with a plethora of side effects. At the heart of the issue are allegations by classrooms teachers, many of them poorly trained at managing trivial off-task behaviors in the classroom, who assert that these African-American boys exude a level of inattention, hyperactivity and/or disruptive behavior that significantly interferes with their ability to learn. In many instances, an occurrence which increases with the decrease in the boy's socioeconomic status, 50% of the Black male student population in many classrooms are being sent to the psychiatrist for medication. Even by the most liberal of estimates, psychopathology should be limited to 15-20% of a given population.
As I chatted with Dr. Abdullah-Johnson about his observation of the mis-diagnosing of African American boys, I realised there was some similarity with the pseudo scientific diagnosing of enslaved Africans who were said to suffer from the mental disorder drapetomania. White men diagnosed enslaved Africans in America with this malady if they (enslaved Africans) did not understand that their natural state in life was to be a slave to white people. Any enslaved African who tried to escape slavery was thought to be suffering from the mental illness of drapetomania. The diagnosis of drapetomania was the brainchild of "psychiatrist" Samuel Cartwright. He also diagnosed those enslaved Africans who refused to work enthusiastically and happily to enrich their white owners, as suffering from dysaethesia aethiopica. Of course the good Dr. Cartwright thought that all formerly enslaved Africans who had managed to gain their freedom suffered from dysaethesia aethiopica.
Not much has changed since 1967 when King gave his speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Racism, white supremacy is rife, in some ways different from the 1960s, like a many headed monster, it grows a new head each time one head is chopped off. The Tea Party Movement has replaced or is an extension of the Ku Klux Klan. African Americans are overrepresented in jails even though it costs more to imprison someone that to educate them at the post-secondary level. The reality for many African Americans, similar to the days of Jim Crow, is living in a state of hypervigilance. Dr. John Rich has documented this reality in his 2009 published book Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Trauma and Violence in the Lives of Young Black Men. While there are some African Americans who are paid large sums of money to entertain, many, many more live in dire poverty at the mercy of a white supremacist culture. Even the entertainers who sometimes seem as though they are the chosen ones are forced to live in a state of hypervigilance because the money they make does not protect them from racism. Today, April 4, 2011, forty-three years after the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a white supremacist culture, Bob Marley’s question “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?” is still not answered because not all our prophets who have been killed were physically assassinated, some have had their physical health affected to the point where they cannot survive while others have suffered character assassination.