We’ll do better together
Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists learned that economic equality was the most difficult goal to attain. Blacks and other racial minorities found it difficult to move forward because working class whites, who should have been their allies, had been deluded to believe that racial discrimination was to their advantage.
From the days of the Confederacy, plantation owners were able to convince white sharecroppers that it was to their advantage to risk their lives so that landowners could have slaves. And today, the working class has come to believe that low taxes for big corporations and the wealthy will be beneficial to the society.
Astute activists dolefully watched MLK advance the Poor People’s Campaign in 1967. While bigots might tolerate efforts to end petty discrimination, they were very protective of challenges to economic standards. With MLK’s assassination in 1968, the Poor People’s Campaign seemed to become inert.
Now wealth inequality in the U.S. has become one of the most disparate in the industrialized world. In 2013, wealthy families in the top 10% held 76% of the wealth. By contrast, families in the bottom 50% held only 1%. It is a wonder that such inequality would be peacefully accepted.
The not so surprising consequence of this disparity is that there are more whites than blacks living in poverty in America. According to the Kaiser Permanente record, in 2018 in the U.S. there were 18,080,000 million poor whites and only 8,647,800 poor blacks. There were more than twice as many poor whites in America.
As might be expected, black militants have focused on the fact that only 9% of whites were poor compared with 22% of blacks. But a more important issue is how to mobilize poor blacks and whites to work together politically.
An interesting aside is that in 2019, according to the Washington Post records, the police killed 331 whites and 213 blacks. It seems that the “Black Lives Matter” protest could be expanded to include many probably forgotten whites, in keeping with MLK’s all inclusive civil rights approach.
Racial hostility engendered by affluent whites has been an effective strategy to impair working class interracial alliances. During the Civil Rights Movement the media helped to stimulate hatred for Martin Luther King in some areas, and the press tended to publish multiple stories to discredit blacks. Much of the negative impact still exists.
If Martin Luther King had survived the nation’s racial antagonism he would have celebrated his 91st birthday on January 15. It is well past the time for everyone to reconsider the ideas for peace and brotherhood that he brought to a fractured society.