Today is a federal holiday to mark the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr and it was not an easy campaign to procure a day to honor the civil rights warrior’s legacy that began shortly after his assassination in 1968. Although the official holiday was signed into law in 1983, it was not observed until three years later and some states resisted observing the holiday at all either giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays; anything to avoid commemorating an African American man’s contribution to bring the Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights to all Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000 and is a stark reminder that racism still permeates a large swath of the population.
Obviously, Dr. King would be somewhat satisfied that a majority of Americans overcame their racial animus enough to elect an African American as President twice, but he would be severely disappointed that the election of Barack Obama revived racism among Americans and drove Republicans to bring governance to a halt to thwart the African American’s presidency. Racism also drove southern states to reinstitute variants of Jim Crow laws to restrict people of color’s right to vote with blessings of the conservative Supreme Court that declared racism in America is non-existent. Dr. King dreamt of a nation in which his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” but America is a nation that judges people by their income level that correlates strongly with their parent’s income level.
One of Dr. King’s major concerns was income inequality driven by racism favoring white Americans over minorities, and he considered discrimination a contributing factor to the bleak economic plight of African Americans’ “basic mobility from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.” At the time of his assassination Dr. King was campaigning for a minimum raise increase to help, not just people of color, all Americans claw their way out of poverty and into the middle class. Indeed, Dr. King’s assumptions were correct that ending overt discrimination would improve the economic status of minorities because over the course of the 60s and 70s a significant number of African American families moved into the middle class, and the percentage of Black households in the top 20% of the income distribution nearly doubled.
All that changed with the election of GOP man-god Ronald Reagan. The Republican drive to transfer all of the nation’s wealth to the richest Americans in the 1980s brought the relative economic position of African Americans, and indeed all Americans, to a screeching halt. Reagan Republicans’ trickle-down scam of the 1980s began widening the income gap that transformed America into a more unequal nation than at any time since the 1920s, and it will not end until the entire population exists in poverty to serve a few wealthy industrialists’ families. The economic plight of people of color that Martin Luther King Jr. sought to improve now affects every American who is not part of the wealthy elite that are 21st century plantation owners leaving scraps for the growing peasant slave class.
It was in the early 1980s that income distribution began adversely affecting African Americans’ economic progress leaving the poor near the bottom of the economic ladder by keeping their income stagnant as the wealthy’s income soared. It has progressed to a point that today it is nearly impossible for the poor to climb out of poverty into the vanishing middle class. America was once regarded as the nation where economic mobility was guaranteed if a person worked hard, played by the rules, and persevered, and it was generally expected that children would earn a better life than their parents. Today it is a fact of life that if a person is born in poverty they will die in poverty, and those who did rise to middle class status have no hope of preventing a slide back into poverty and it is all down to income inequality Republicans are fighting to increase. The current Republican approach to income inequality is more trickle-down tax cuts for the rich and deregulation to send more wealth to the already super-rich and their corporations while opposing a minimum wage increase, living wage jobs, and eliminating overtime pay and union representation.
Last week the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, Alan Krueger, showed that countries with the highest income inequality (like America) have no upward economic mobility, and that the more unequal a society is the greater the chance an individual born into poverty will die worse off than their parents. According to Krueger, income inequality plaguing America portends that by 2035 economic mobility will be much worse than it is today and the economic prospects of children will reflect, under the best circumstances, the class they were born in.
Republicans are loath to talk about America’s income inequality creating a nation of peasants with no hope ever escaping poverty, or the middle class avoiding a slide into poverty. Willard Romney said that income inequality is not something to be discussed except in “quiet rooms,” and it was precisely what politicians said about racial inequality during the Civil Rights movement. Fortunately, for people of color, Dr. King made racial inequality part of the national conversation and today there are few Americans such as Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, and Noam Chomsky, among others, who are attempting to sound the alarm that economic inequality is a national disaster that requires interdiction to stop the transfer of wealth to the rich and save the masses from economic demise.
It is a sad fact of life that for thirty years Republicans have created the income inequality that threatens to transform America into a worse place than it was before the Great Depression or the Civil Rights movement. President Obama has picked up where Dr. King left off and called for policies to reverse the income inequality to give every American, regardless of color, the opportunity to achieve upward mobility that defined the great American Dream. The President has begged, prodded, and attempted to shame Republicans into acting on behalf of all Americans’ economic plight to create jobs, raise the minimum wage, and extend unemployment benefits to prevent millions from falling into poverty but they have opposed him at every turn like racists fighting against equal rights for people of color.
Dr. King would have been 85 years old this month and although his advocacy for equal opportunities for African Americans bore fruit throughout the 60s and 70s, he would be disappointed that by the 80s Reagan initiated the income inequality war that reversed the economic gains King helped procure. Today it is President Obama fighting Republicans to give all Americans the opportunities Dr. King sought for people of color, and besides not acknowledging income inequality even exists, Republicans are redoubling their advocacy of Reagan policies to deny all Americans the opportunity of upward mobility. To ensure their success at increasing income inequality, Republicans in states are resorting to near-Jim Crow voter suppression tactics Dr. King fought against during the Civil Rights movement to maintain their hold on power with valuable assistance from the conservative Supreme Court.
It is a travesty that despite Dr. King’s righteous battle to secure equal rights, and equal economic opportunities, for people of color, the only visible progress is that the American people elected an African American man as President. Subsequently, it was progress Republicans would hardly allow and it was the impetus for them to bring governance to a halt, increase their economic assault to include all Americans not in the richest 1% of income earners, and create a nation where “people were not judged by the color of their skin,” but by their income status. America needs a new civil rights movement to stop Republican discrimination against Americans not in the wealthy elite class, and if racial animus was not rampant in a certain segment of the population, it would be a movement Republicans could not stop. However, racism is as prevalent today as it was in the 1960s, and although it is not blatant, it is enough to keep Republicans in power and on pace to achieve what Reagan Republicans started in the 1980s; crushing income inequality creating a population of peasants enslaved to the wealthy elite.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.