MLK died almost 50 years ago.
I’ll be 50 this year. I grew up in the 70s and the 80s. My generation of black men has been decimated by the drug wars — death by hopelessness, stress, cop and bredren — and imprisonment so there are a lot of “missing” men who have experienced black life in America during the time I have.
I feel this perspective is important because it is almost as if we were purposefully killed, and we, alongside the young Millennials and the older Boomers who have lived into their 70s and 80s now, have had three different yet related experiences of America. Scratch “almost”. So many of my black peers are gone now. We were murdered purposefully and willfully. The historical record will show it to have been so. The first generation past segregation and overt oppression, the first to be “Free”.
I was born in 1967, formal segregation was ended in 64, a few years prior. So my youth was spent often integrating spaces in America that had not been so for any significant amount of time prior. Many young people today of color and many young white people do not know what that experience entailed. It entailed being the only black kid in entire classes and one of few in schools of hundreds. It entailed being called nigger countless times by kids who’d learned the word from their parents who had become adults during the era of segregation and who saw that way of life end formally. Of fighting, and running when necessary. Of being the first black person that white Americans in some parts of the country had ever seen in the flesh.
It entails many experiences with the authorities. Of standing at the border of Canada and the USA having been kicked off a train for having no money in your pockets, with two border patrol agents with hands over their weapons questioning you with fire in their eyes. Of numerous encounters with traffic cops, who relax visibly once they hear your “cultured” voice and accent. Of being able to — almost unconsciously — sooth police, bosses and other authorities of the innate and societally-fueled fears that are so very visible in their eyes. Of knowing that if you break any rules, you will without doubt pay for it. Of knowing that if there are rules, even if they don’t apply to anyone else, they apply to you. Of being able to sooth whites in general by knowing how to act in their presence. Of having to engage in this kind of personality modification for the comfort of others all of your life.
TV became integrated in my youth, Blacksploitation proved that movies made by black people could find mainstream success. It was a different world, from where we came from. As the decades have passed, the MSM has incorporated more and more people of color (POC) into their programming, even though the majority of this nation still experiences their lives in segregated or barely integrated circumstances. Hip Hop became the world’s youth culture and it permeated all aspects of society. But all of that was still officially a minority sub-culture and its impact upon greater American culture had to evolve and grow more influential over time and through space, during the 80s, 90s and 00s.
These events are ongoing, but the times when the public perception of blacks and other POC was more stridently and openly racist were really not that long ago. Overt racial oppression and segregation was just a relatively few years back. And that is formally so, as de facto segregation and re-segregation, in housing and schooling, remains at issue and approaches or surpasses levels experienced back in the 60s and 70s currently in some places.
By the way some people speak these days, it seems they do not know these things. Do not really understand that how it was did not end, it is just that those who acted that way complied with what must have seemed to be an overwhelming MSM juggernaut forcing colorful “entertainment” through their eyes, aggrieving their mono-cultural sensibilities. They complained privately to friends and families, especially as corporate culture and laws began to punish overt expressions of racism while simultaneously working to keep the workplace as white as possible under seemingly open and diverse practices.
By the late 1990s and into the 00s, it had become possible for an entire generation of white people to grow up and matriculate and truly, with their very souls, believe that black people and other POC did not experience the world qualitatively in any way different from themselves. That everyone was experientially equal, had the same opportunities and that racism was an exaggeration and probably only existed in small backwaters in the South. Some POC were able to grow up in integrated environments who also believed this to be so, based upon their lived experience.
Or so it was until the stock market crash of 2008 and the rise of the Occupy movement, when young whites finally realized that the economic peonage that blacks had been experiencing forever in this country had then come to represent their new reality as well. So it was until the election of Obama and the birth of the Tea Party and the rise of conservative hate in response to the White House turning black. So it was until it became clear that the savage lies and total obstruction were not a fluke or a momentary deviation but instead a deliberate and conscious strategy designed to totally negate any positivity that could have resulted from his presidency. So it was until Trevon Martin and the host of other highly publicized and ongoing murders.
There is so much more but I don’t want to dwell on it all or write extensively so suffice it to say that, with the election of Trump and the revelation (to white people and some POC) that white supremacy remains a constant and sublime influence upon American life, America’s original sin has once again risen to the surface to be faced and, hopefully dealt with.
My peculiar and personal contribution and the reason why I speak from the perspective of a Gen-X cohort black Experiencer, is that it amazes me still when the young folks are amazed by racism. There was a time, not so long ago when the things that MLK says down in the video below this text were important. There was a time when black people needed to be lifted up and when that wasn’t questioned. When white people did not need to ask blacks why they needed their own space sometimes because they knew what outright racism looked like in their own life experience and local surrounds.
Centuries of oppression are passed down orally and also genetically, according to the scientists both social and biological. It manifests in certain sensitivities, for those whose ancestors have had to watch and feel and anticipate white folks behaviors in fear of their very lives. Teaching their children to do the same. People for whom existential fear was a daily reality. Whose jobs, homes and lives were ever threatened by forces beyond their control. It manifests in a certain emotional distance in whites who literally have to suppress their own humanity to uphold societal standards of oppression. Generation after generation. Teaching their children to ignore the deprivations they committed or commit against POC, shutting them up for asking too many questions or lying about why “those people” aren’t the same as us, imparting to their progeny that they, in turn, have to do it too.
To preserve a system that goes against all of nature. A way of thinking and being that kills the spirit and forces the soul to flee, eventually. That hardens the heart. That has its very basis in separation and parasitic siphoning of life energy, from other humans and the world.
I love the Millennials, they are our future and are so beautiful. Their ideologies and understandings far surpass what we Gen-Xers and Boomers knew about the world at the same age. But Millennials need to realize that their desire to ignore these issues or to interpret them through their own experiences is not enough to transcend them. And that, as we enter into these times fraught with peril and danger, it is very possible that America will not be as relatively peaceful as it has been for quite some time to come. But even with that foreknowledge, that increasing numbers of them seem to know that there are certain truths that are now known and unassailable, gives me a certain, sublime sense of satisfaction.
My own knowing that tells me always and in every circumstance that a diverse and unlimited future is currently in the birthing and cannot be stopped remains paramount, despite how it looks from a political and social standpoint. If anything, the current situation will only strengthen the hearts and the spirits of those whose only option is to fight and stand tall in the truth and certain knowledge of the rightness of their cause according to all divine laws.
We, black Gen-X, the first blacks in America to live our full lives under the umbrella of legal and moral certitude as represented by that founding document of American justice, the constitution, have had a rough time of it. It has been another deadly experience of how white America reacts to having their position challenged. Those of us who yet live have experience to share with the young folk. Experience in integration and in segregation: deliberate self-segregation amongst ourselves for psychic, emotional and physical protection, mostly. Integration with white society on the job and perhaps in relationships. And the middle path in between the two extremes, interacting within both worlds relatively equally. MLK’s body of work represents a dream yet to become a reality, an ideological mountaintop that none of us will live to see fulfilled, although we are closer than he was.
His words stand the test of time.
They are so beautiful. The truth is embodied in certain souls who shine forth for all to see and emulate, to resonate with and to pass on knowing that others will internalize and then make external that same light. It is that knowing, for me, that reinforces my peace and love of all the human families in all of our scintillating diversity of expression and appearance.