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Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech at the March on Washington, America has made undeniable, often inspiring progress on increasing racial equality and banishing overt racism to the relative fringes of society. But if you're paying attention, many of the improvements are also reminders of how far we have to go, of how deeply racism and inequality were embedded in American society at the time King spoke and how difficult it will be to root them out.

Exhibit A may be the ugly racism that has so often bubbled to the surface since Barack Obama was elected president, racism that might not have been visible if racists weren't so enraged at a black president. Exhibits B and C might be the ongoing need for the Voting Rights Act—and the Supreme Court's treatment of it—and stop-and-frisk policies. But economic inequality is also a pervasive form of racial inequality, with improvements over the years highlighting how bad it was, and how structurally ingrained economic inequality was and is:

In 1966, the closest year from the speech for which census data are available, 42 percent of blacks lived in poverty compared with 11 percent of whites. By 2011, 28 percent of blacks were impoverished compared with less than 10 percent of whites. [...]

Five decades after King spoke of the “great vaults of opportunity of this nation,” median black family income is more than 40 percent below that of whites. As of June, black households were earning an annual median of $33,519 compared with $58,000 for whites, according to Sentier Research.

That gap has narrowed from a 55 percent differential in 1991. Blacks are also making gains on the upper end of the spectrum: More than one in 10 black households earned $100,000 or more in 2011, up from less than one in seven in 1991. For white households, 24 percent were earning at least that much. About 1.5 percent of black households earned $200,000 or more in 2011, a fourfold increase from 1991.

That is both a massive set of steps in reducing the poverty rate, narrowing the median income gap, and increasing the percentage of upper-income black households and massive inequality today. And the progress over the past 50 years is striking given the weakness of U.S. policies actually attempting to advance equality rather than simply making it more difficult to create inequality. For a hundred years after the Civil War, white people gave themselves the most extreme form of affirmative action by law and at gunpoint. Then for 50 years, they've insisted that any real steps to undo that damage were unfair. No wonder progress is so halting—especially in the context of growing economic inequality for all races.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 09:47 AM PDT.

Also republished by Kos Georgia and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good post, Laura. (4+ / 0-)

    Life expectancy, differing medical outcomes, all part of the insitutional racist heritage.  

    Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

    by TomP on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 09:49:01 AM PDT

    •  Single mothers and poverty (0+ / 0-)

      As has been pointed out, much of black poverty is concentrated in single-mother led households.   I sincerely do not understand the durability of the single-mother in poverty phenomenon, because it seems to me like young women could break this cycle.

      Yes, there is structural and institutional racism in the USA.    Just google "youtube bike thief racism" to see America's blatant racism in action.    But by becoming single mothers, young women ensure they will perpetuate their poverty.   A big part of fixing income inequality will be by reducing the number of single-mother led families living in poverty.  

      Is it clear that poor single mothers hard lives.  I don't see their lot as something they wish for.   The Wikipedia "teen pregnancy" article lists the circumstances these women face- often dating older men who use them, abuse, and lack of access to medical care.  But, the consequences are so drastic, why don't they make sure they don't get pregnant out of self-interest?  

      Why don't these young women think "I don't want to get pregnant- I will get birth control"?  Or, if they did have unprotected sex, "I should take a morning after pill"?    

      Why don't the mothers of these young women break the cycle, and get them the free birth control that is available?

      The men have responsibility, but it is clear they abdicate, leading to single mothers in 72% of black births- that is an unfortunate fact.  It is lower in other groups, but still too high.  Don't the young women know that these guys will abandon their children?  

      Poor people are smart enough to get the resources that come with being a single mother, as measly as they are.  They often get SNAP, subsidized housing, tax credits, medicaid, whatever else may be available.  Why don't they use the same common sense to avoid becoming single mothers in the first place?

  •  Thanks Laura nt (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maryabein, Glen The Plumber, LinSea

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 09:53:03 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for the numbers (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maryabein, Glen The Plumber

    Does anyone understand what this sentence was supposed to say?

    More than one in 10 black households earned $100,000 or more in 2011, up from less than one in seven in 1991.
  •  My husband helped register black people to vote (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in Tennessee back when it was dangerous to do so.  He told me about how the sheriff tried to intimidate them by driving into the church parking lot and writing down license plate numbers.

    He was convinced Martin Luther King was targeted for assassination because he was lobbying for income equality.  And now, 50 years later, we're still trying to right this wrong.

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead -

    by FlamingoGrrl on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 10:27:36 AM PDT

  •  Fox is on it. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wesinCA, Matt Z

    Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

    by darthstar on Wed Aug 28, 2013 at 11:22:13 AM PDT

  •  Sorry this is OT but I just heard one of the worst (0+ / 0-)

    renditions of The Star Spangled Banner I've ever heard.  Just after Pres. Obama et al arrived and before John Lewis.  

    It was seriously pathetic.  I enjoy listening to your anthem when it's well done but it's painful when it isn't.

    End of rant.

    The speeches are inspiring and powerful.  But I bet they're going to have trouble with the timing of the speeches and the bell-ringing.  

    We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. B. Franklin

    by Observerinvancouver on Wed Aug 28, 2013 at 11:22:44 AM PDT

  •  Listening to Rep. Lewis (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peregrine kate

    As usual, a powerful speaker who sets a high bar for the rest and society as a whole.

  •  Thanks Laura (0+ / 0-)

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    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Wed Aug 28, 2013 at 11:56:41 AM PDT

  •  Yes, racism is the cause of black poverty. (0+ / 0-)

    Same racism that has caused Asians and other minoirities to remain entrenched in poverty with no way out.

  •  Dear Martin (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    political mutt

    In Honor Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Martin's last political conversation can found in chapter one "Where are
    we?" And penultimately chapter five "Where we are going of "Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community?" This colloquy and final last testament
    really is between Dr Martin Luther King and the rest of us - the
    community. His wife, the late Coretta Scott King, in the introduction
    reminds us that "in this work Martin Luther King, Jr. stresses the
    common cause of all the disinherited, white and black, laying the basis
    for the struggles now unfolding around economic issues. He spoke out
    sharply for all the poor in all their hues, for he knew if color made
    them different, misery and oppression made them the same."

    It is in "Where we are going," that Martin's story of "the Porter" is
    introduced as a lesson that he would never forget and harkens back to
    Thomas Jefferson's poor weary soldier and poor drunken woman letter from Europe. The story Martin relates is based on a report that he heard of "two men who flew into Atlanta to confer with a civil rights leader at the airport. Before they could begin to talk, the porter sweeping the floor drew the local
    leader aside to talk about a matter that troubled him. After fifteen
    minutes had passed, one of the visitors said bitterly to his companion,
    'I am just too busy for this kind of nonsense. I haven't come a
    thousand miles to sit and wait while he talks to a porter.' The other
    replied, 'When the day comes that he stops talking to a porter, on that
    day I will not have the time to come one mile to see him." Again, this
    value to care about the other is no different here than with
    Jefferson's taking time to listen to a fellow citizen in need or with a
    concern to bring attention to. Jefferson rejected Europe's medieval values and so should we.

    Where are we today? The keys to the double lock of peaceful change
    were not just in the hand of the black community. The other key, Martin
    claimed, was in the hand of the white community. Have we as a country
    used that key to relieve all that we can regardless of color as
    Jefferson calls us to? Or are we back to 1966 when the problem was
    declared a simple "The poor can stop being poor if the rich are willing
    to become even richer at a slower pace."

    The fear, that I have today in retrospect, is that in America the
    distance between luxury and liberty and the distance between where we
    stand compared to where the rich stand has grown so great and
    wide that no key or keys can be possibly be exchanged; that the reach
    has come to far between us, because like Jefferson concluded in
    European France, the property "of this country is absolutely
    con-centered in a very few hands." That now the day breaks upon
    problems not just of distribution as Martin pointed out, but of both
    the production and distribution of work and wealth. (As an aside I only
    hope that I am not shot for suggesting any of this.)

    Fortunately, for us Dr. King takes heart and concludes ultimately in
    his last chapter "The World House" with the First Epistle of Saint John
    that Love is the Key in the choice between nonviolent coexistence or
    violent co-annihilation:

    Let us love one another; for love is of God

    And every one that loveth is born of God, and

    Knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not

    God; for God is love. If we love one another,

    God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

    Lets us take up this prayer of relief and have a political
    conversation amongst ourselves on this day in all ways civil and in
    complete freedom, for these any many other unexamined reasons. Let us
    then walk together and renew our faith in the values this nation
    started with; the right of equality, the natural rights of man and woman, the sovereignty of the people, and the right of revolution in
    values that Martin Luther King in so many words called for nearly 50
    years ago on that August summer day.

    I am Citizen Michael John Keenan

  •  If you can call it "progress", then some was made (0+ / 0-)

    in the last 50 years... thanks to 32 out of those last 50 being run by conservative republicans, you now have the opportunity to be as broke, unemployed, debt-laden, poorly educated and desperate, equal in nature to any rural black person from the 1950s.

    However I'm not entirely sure it's the kind of progress anybody but the wealthy elite and the regressive neocon corporate power grabbers want.

  •  People who WEREN'T in Washington, D.C. today: (0+ / 0-)

    1.  Allen West.
    2.  Ward Connerly.
    3.  Condoleeza Rice.
    4.  Hermain Cain.
    5.  Shit-for-brains.
    6.  Caca-for-brains.
    7.  What's-his-name-supporting Cuccinelli.
    8.  George Bush. (Actually, already covered under Shit-for-brains.)
    9.  Glenn Beck.
    10. Elizabeth Hasselbeck.
    11. Wayne La Pierre.
    12. George Zimmerman.
    13. Too many of my clueless family.
    14. Miscellaneous Neanderthals.

    Have I left anybody out?

    "They come, they come To build a wall between us We know they won't win."--Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over."

    by Wildthumb on Wed Aug 28, 2013 at 01:04:59 PM PDT

  •  This is perhaps a secondary issue (0+ / 0-)

    but has anyone done a comparison of income between ethnicities for the same type of employment? That's the usual comparison made between women and mens' income. I suspect there is a discrepancy. The reason I raise it is that it'd be stronger evidence of cultural racism than distribution within ethnic groups-- that can be excused as being caused by existing economic status, as something purely historical. Why can't we let bygones be bygones, an apologist might ask. The latter is a problem for all people of lower socio-economic status, why bring race into it?

    Racism is used as a distraction from those conditions; they are blamed on immigrants (combined with conflation with exploitation of immigrants undermining wages), the pernicious effect of black culture (c.f. references to gang culture, rap music, etc) or whatever other boogie man can be conceived of. Anything to conceal the finance-driven dismantling of the US economy. This is something ongoing, not just of the past. A demonstration of the kind I describe above makes that harder to deny or to be (somewhat) honestly skeptical of.

    The existing work on bias demonstrated by identical job applications with differing names, which has been done in several countries, is another example that can be put to the same use.

    •  There is an added complexity (0+ / 0-)
      That's the usual comparison made between women and mens' income.
      There are jobs that have higher ratios of women than men and visa versa. The first tend to be lower income. That can be used to obfuscate some disparity. I guess it'd also be useful to examine if there are particular sectors that have a larger or smaller proportion of non-whites.

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