Amidst all the technological revolution in the United States and other dizzying changes in the ways we all live our lives as apart of an inter-connected world, the challenge of overcoming the raw emanations of racial bigotry, gender hostility and religious hatreds will follow mankind into the next century.
To be sure, very significant progress has been made on almost all fronts of human endeavor. As an African in America, as a recent immigrant who has been blessed by the graciousness, business opportunities, global breadth and hospitality of Americans, I have cause to be thankful for benefiting from the vision, personal sacrifice and peaceful soldiering of the late Martin Luther King, who sought to create an atmosphere which fosters harmony and acceptance of all our unique talents and racial origins
On this day/week of the post-humous celebration of birthday, I believe that the existing global alliance of all humankind, representing the full tapestry of our ethnic/racial origins as Indians, Caucasians, Blacks, Jews, Asians, and a multitude of other backgrounds should, markedly, advance Dr. Kingâ€™s vision and efforts should do more by utilizing technological tools, networking personal discipline, boosting religious and communal re-orientation to fight all forms of discrimination and intolerance into the 21st century. Why?
We must all remember the fact that although King and his colleagues fought and died to achieve the cause of racial harmony and peaceful resolution of conflicts, there are more sophisticated forms of discrimination which besmirch our collective dignity as God’s children.
Second, in the course of political fights in Washington DC and locally, we have, sometimes, listened to impassioned partisan drivel that Dr. King fought for a “color-blind society.”
Third, from my researching King’s view on this issue and having discussed the same question with one of his sons, the claim that the late but revered King worked and died for the emergence of a “color-blind society” amounts to nothing more than grandiose distortion and arrant nonsense. Intellectually, it is sociological misleading since multi-ethnic and multi-racial societies will have their “color” components. Therefore, the ideologically misleading mantra pretending to establish a “color-blind society” merely serves as a wedge issue and fund-raising code for contortionists of King’s vision and work which fundamentally and specifically sought the recognition of our backgrounds and even our racial origins. He specifically demanded that we neither be judged nor discriminated against because of the color of our skin. He beseeched that we rather be judged by the content of our character.
ON July 15, 1994, I visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta, Ga., for the first time as a member of a committee of a few African ambassadors, African-American professionals and a handful of continental Africans assembled by the Rev. Leon Sullivan, longtime advocate for equal rights for South African and American blacks, to plan aspects of the 1995 African and African-American summit in Dakar, Senegal.
As I walked the premises with the late Dr. Kingâ€™s son, Martin Luther King III, my mind’s eye recalled Dr. Kingâ€™s vision, his unique poetic cadence, the flowing timbre of his voice, the inimitable rhyme and rhythm that punctuated his manner of speaking. Amid those memories, I recalled the shattering staccato of angry verbal and physical exchanges between many members of Jewish and African-American communities tearing through their communal environments in far away New York, Chicago and Massachusetts, carrying on in ways that would have made Dr. King recoil. At least he would have spoken in less divisive and denying fashion.
But beyond their heated arguments over the nature and impact of their relationships during the slave trade, civil rights struggles, positions in post-civil rights boardrooms of America, misguided arguments over why the degradation of black neighborhood is proceeding on so rapidly, the role of the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in defining the future of black America, a greater number of Jews and African-Americans agree on a number of issues. They appreciate the value of racial harmony, not just toleration; the responsible logic of equal opportunity within the prism of historical truths and denials, not what the likes of prolific columnist George F. Will and the right-wing’s 300-pound gorilla, Rush Limbaugh, distort as a demand of “equality of outcome” by African-Americans.
Third, beyond those angry confrontations, an unprecedented, remarkable and courageous event took place in 1994. It marked the decision of Jewish communities in 80 nations across the world to mark the memory of the slain civil rights leader and champion of nonviolence by including this U.S. holiday on the global Jewish calendars. It was a serious gesture, embodying both the seeds of a friendlier expectation for the renewal of the better times that some suggest both communities shared when Dr. King lived. It must be noted that according to the World Jewish Congress’ executive director, Elan Steinberg, it marked “the first time that Jews around the world have agreed to observe a U.S. federal holiday.”
Fourth, the believers in King’s goals and vision must deal with an increasing challenge, specifically: the hordes of unemployed (soon unemployable in the computer market) inner-city youths do not care so much about whose holiday is celebrated when and by whom. King’s approach and dream needs to have a direct connection for these dispirited youths. While the older generation of African-Americans cherished Dr. Kingâ€™s mellow appeal, today’s Ice Cube/MTV generation seems to enjoy the rhetoric of in-your-face, no-holds-barred leaders.
What to do? Both communities have the power to bring a number of our youths to zones of fulfilling economic activity and educational excellence where they’ll know and see they have a stake in the order of things. Jesse Jackson and Jack Kemp call it empowerment.
But African-Americans should do for themselves what they must: first, take responsibility for many of their self-inflicted wounds.
Why? Dr. King saw the iniquities of his time, but it did not stop him from rising to the challenge of the day and charting an intellectual, visionary road map for tomorrow. Lesson: Black America must now cut its losses and redefine its course for the soon-to-come 21st century.
Finally, beyond the celebratory indulgences of this pre-millennial celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jews, African-Americans and other so-called minorities cannot be naive to the fact they must be courageous and unwavering if they are to douse other festering and combustible issues they have long spoken to like artful dodgers, tongue-in-cheek, pussyfooting contortionists.
With a sincere, better resolve, therefore, I believe the key questions for Jews and all people of African descent as we inch into the 21st century will then become: What do Jews and African-Americans need to do to mend their differences of yesterday?
How should those leaders of Jewish and African-American organizations who seem professional seekers of the klieg lights of television cameras, those dramatic purveyors of discord and rancor who continue in goad blacks and Jews to go for each other’s jugular be redirected to ensure our communities’ strategic interests in civil rights and Dr. Kingâ€™s struggle for global racial harmony?
At what point will African-Americans and Jews deal with the fact that hateful, discriminatory literature emerging from any of their hateful fringe quarters fundamentally undermines the historic efforts for freedom and economic empowerment of our peoples?
The road to a responsible, equitable Jewish and African-American relationship has not been easy, and will not be easy. But people of African and Jewish descent all over the world have the exemplary courage of their kinsmen who have shattered physical and psychological “iron curtains” to reach people with whom they have strongly disagreed to erect new, better platforms for interaction.
For example, South Africa’s outgoing president Nelson Mandela towered beyond bitterness to live and work with his pro-apartheid jailers. I have observed Mandela at close quarters (the most recent being during the closing days of March 1998 when President Clinton visited Southern Africa) and walked inside the very dehumanizing prison room the zombies of apartheid locked down his body. His response to hatred from his apartheid oppressors mirrors King’s example for all of us: be forgiving, remain noble, foster racial harmony and fair-minded.
For all it’s worth, these times and the 21st century truly require someone with a King-size vision, temper and courage to move the man’s goals even further, in the context of a new era.
Also, the millennium still requires someone with King’s sense of our shared humanity, a coalition of persons who not only will continue to seek peaceful coexistence but ensure justice and fairness to defend Jews and African-Americans against the present peril of the David Dukes of America (he’s running for Congress as a Republican in Louisiana) and the assorted confederacy of skinheads and neo-Nazi thugs all over Europe and obscure corners of the United States. God bless America, all the peoples of the world and the noble vision of the late Dr. Martin Luther King!