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MLK, Black Power and Politics

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Once more we will celebrate the life and times of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And as we have done for so many years now, the celebration of his birth will be marked by noble flowery speech making by political leaders, self-righteous loud-mouthed pundits doing vapid analyses, and all and sundry talk-show talking heads proclaiming just how great and marvelous MLK really was for America and the world.

But away from all the hollow hypocritical hyperbole is the fact that everyone continues to avoid two essential questions facing the Black community today: What is the real state of the Black community as we celebrate the 83rd anniversary of MLK's birth? And why does Black elected officials handle power so poorly and inefficiently?

I believe that it is time that we answer these two questions that go to the very core of Black existence in 2014.

While it is true that Blacks have made many, many gains and strides, in all areas of life, since MLK marched in the 1960s it is equally true that many of the gains have either been rolled back or destroyed. Moreover, today's statistics on Black life only tell us just how far Blacks (you may life African-American. I hate the hyphenated term) have come as a people and community but NOT where they are today, this time in history.

According to a recent report released by the Urban Institute, the state of the African-American family is worse today than it was in the 1960"s. The report also discloses that families of all ethnicities are showing a decline; however, the African-American household has suffered the worst decline. And today in 2014, African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population in American jails and prisons.

      The unemployment gap persists. The unemployment gap has only closed 6 percent since 1963, and the unemployment rate for African-Americans remains twice that of whites -- regardless of education, gender, region of the country, or income level.

      The income gap persists. In 50 years, the income gap between African-Americans and whites has closed just 7 percent.

      The wealth gap is growing. Net wealth for African-American families dropped 27.1 percent during the recession.

      Disproportionate poverty persists. African-Americans make up 13.8 percent of the population, but account for over 27 percent of Americans now living in poverty.

MLK had his own views on power, and especially Black power (not to be confused with the slogan and rallying cry of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s) when he was alive. It is true today that the very notion of Black power -- political and otherwise -- is largely a figment of the imagination. Still, the essential contradiction is that there are more Black (African-American) individuals in power than when MLK marched against Washington's white power structure.

For example, today there are forty-two members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and there are about the same number of Black mayors all across America with about 20 running cities with populations of over 50,000 people. There is also a number of Black state senators and local city officials in state governments across the United States.

That was never the case in MLK's time when Black members of Congress were a rarity. Remember, overt segregation, racism and bigotry were alive and rabid in those days, stifling Black socio-economic and political aspirations on a daily basis. Today, we've even got a Black president in the White House. Yet, Black power is as flaccid and impotent as ever. Black political leaders appear unable and ill equipped to handle the nuances and tools of power. That I could understand during MLK's ministry.  But not now. I contend that Black people have had enough time and experience to understand how to deal with power once its given by the popular vote or the corporate board.

I believe that issues of lingering self-hate, fear and political cowardice are to blame for the fact that after all the talk of "reaching back and bringing each other along" Black leaders still exhibit the chronic selfish, self-centered disease of "me first."

These political leaders do not empower their own people; rather they seem to seek boastful validation of their actions in "how many white people are on my staff." This is driven by an urge and struggle to "belong" to a club whose members have very little respect for them and still locks them out even after they become elected. Back elected officials are still separate and unequal no matter the loud shouts about democracy.

It is to be found in their alacrity and readiness to condemn, and criticize "my own people," for any and all transgressions by buying into the old white stereotype of "the lazy, dishonest Black," while fawning, genuflecting, lauding and praising other ethnic groups and races for their successes. Never once do they remember that scant 75 years ago Blacks could not sit at the same lunch counter with whites or use the same toilet. It is this sell out mentality that proudly says "I'm the only Black on a white block" as if that's a badge of honor or this utterly silly and meaningless fact makes that individual somehow better that the rest of all Blacks people presumably living in the urban ghettoes.

It is the petty niggling that Black employers, political leaders, and others engage in when hiring fellow Blacks but never think of doing the same when they hire white people. It is the syndrome that says in deeds and actions that "the worst white man is better than the best Black man."

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MICHAEL D. ROBERTS is a top Political Strategist and Business, Management and Communications Specialist in New York City's Black community. He is an experienced writer whose specialty is socio-political and economic analysis and local (more...)
 

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