The Misnomer of Progress: A Peek Inside MLK’s Dream at 50
The dictionary defines progress as a noun, meaning “a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage.” As the collective eyes of Black America turns its focus to the nation’s capital for the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, there exists a bevy of varied thoughts from different pockets in our community ranging from renewed enthusiasm, to skepticism, to flat-out indifference. In the same breath that some applaud the symbolism behind observing the march, others have openly questioned whether it is an empty gesture that further supports the notion that our community’s leaders have failed to engineer innovative solutions to address present-day ills.
The question of progress in the context of Dr. King’s so well-articulated Dream at 50 presents some very interesting contrasts. We have gone from Richard Pryor’s famed “Black President” skit to this, and somehow managed to arrive at our forty-fourth president, Barack Obama. That seems like progress, right? Well, consider that many are more familiar with Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Control” or Kimye’s latest interview than President Obama’s efforts to curb gun violence across the country.
Yea. Progress . . . about that.
Let’s look at education. The racial achievement gap regarding academic performance continues to widen in urban communities across America. A study on the widening achievement gap conducted by faculty at Columbia University’s Teachers College showed that urrently in New York City, a white student is 521% more likely to be proficient on standardized math tests than Black or Latino students. And that number is up 133% from the gap which existed just one year ago. If somehow that’s underwhelming, public school students in the Greenwich Village section of New York (85% white or Asian) are 1,560% more likely to pass the same standardized math tests than their peers attending public school just a few miles away in the South Bronx (97% Black or Latino). Read that number again, it is not a typo: 1,560% more likely to pass — and that number continues to rise as it is up 340% from just last year.
We may have certainly gotten the integration thing to work, somewhat seamlessly, but this progress piece is proving a hard sell.
So education might not be the best example. What about in economics? I see Black people on TV driving nice cars and living in large homes in suburban Atlanta all the time. Must be doing well, right? A recent survey released by the Pew Research Center revealed between 1967 and 2011 the median income of a black household of three rose from about $24,000 to nearly $40,000. Finally, we’re getting somewhere. However,when that same income is expressed as a share of what whites earned, black households earned about 59% by way of comparison. Nevermind. When expressed as dollars, the black-white income gap widened further, from about $19,000 in the lae 1960s to roughly $27,000 today. The race gap on household wealth has increased from $75,224 in 1984 to $84,960 in 2011. Again, nevermind.
Let’s try the law.
For a moment, let’s not discuss the hoards of incarcerated black men who were jailed as the result of mandatory minimum sentencing in order to feed the privatized prison industry or the fact that Black men were more than six times as likely as white men in 2010 to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and local jails, which is actually an increase from 1960, when black men were five times as likely as whites to be incarcerated. Um, right. Just a few ticks of the clock after Abraham Lincoln set us free from bondage, the civil rights era of the 1960′s gave birth to legislation intended for the protection Blacks and our progress. Laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Affirmative Action, and the Voting Rights Act resulted from the union of political pressure and white guilt. Thank God all of those are currently safe and free from attack.
So what does this all mean? I am far from a harbinger of pessimism who would suggest that we are no better off today than we were fifty years ago. Such as a statement fails the naked eye test rather easily. Still, it is beneath the surface which tells the real story of where we are as a community in 2013. Before we can begin to grapple with the more difficult questions like “Why?” and “How do we fix it?” we must realize that whatever progress we have made has come at a steep price: it has lulled the masses of us into a false sense of security. That slumber threatens to undermine all that has already been achieved while keeping us from ever reaching that mountain top Dr. King predicted we would see in his absence.
If we march for anything, fifty years later, we march for the hope of real progress.
Latest posts by Charles F. Coleman Jr. (see all)
- What Obama Can Learn From George W. Bush - October 8, 2013
- What Now? Expanding the Umbrella of Civil Rights - August 28, 2013
- The Misnomer of Progress: A Peek Inside MLK’s Dream at 50 - August 26, 2013