By Ebenezer Derek Mbongo Akwanga,Maryland, USA
Fifty years ago today, they came by bus, some on foot, others by air – with much expectation to the nation’s capital of Washington, DC to cash a cheque for freedom. On that eventful day, August 28, 1963 to more than two hundred and fifty thousand people, some on tree-tops, the majority flanking the majestic mural of the Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr echoed the words: “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and entered into history as America’s foremost orator, civil rights leader and championed of the cause of dignity for the black race.
Fifty years later, thousands of Americans last Saturday August 24, 2013 gathered at the National Mall to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Most troubling though is the fact that though much has changed within America, some of the dreaded entrenchments of racism, widespread unemployment within the black community, structural injustice within the country’s justice system which has been tailored to find black and brown folks guilty (most of the time) until proven otherwise, voter suppression for the purpose of electoral thievery, judicial bias, social inequalities, the de-personalisation of the black male youth and objectification of the black girl… – some of the underlying negative sores which the assassinated Baptist Pastor and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement fought against are still deeply rooted in the American society.
In 1963, when Dr. King, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy Sr., the Rev. Jesse Louise Jackson Sr., and more than 250,000 people of all races and social strata assembled at the Lincoln Memorial, there were just 5 black members of Congress, the unemployment rate was 10% for blacks as against 5% for white Americans. Today, with 43 members of Congress and a staggering 12.6% unemployment rate, it would be madness for anyone to call this progress in the land which prides itself as the beacon of freedom.
The election of Barack Hussein Obama in 2008 as the country’s first African-American president has vividly exposed to most of us naturalised Americans, the stinging darts of racism. From Monkey symbolism to the shocking and disgraceful verbal assault in Congress following the State of the Union Address, in which a Congressman for the first time in U.S. Legislative History, interrupted the country’s first black president with a “You Lie!” shout. More so to disgusting lynching images of the Hawaiian-born president, Barack Obama’s hate-mongers have since 2007 exposed to the world the lowly disguised cloud of a dangerously-imbued racism that is silently threatening to eradicate any fallout successes of the 1963 March on Washington.
The Leadership Conference, a not-for-profit civil and human rights coalition wrote in 2009:
“From lynching, to burning crosses and churches, to murdering a man by chaining him to a truck and dragging him down a road for three miles, anti-black violence has been and still remains the prototypical hate crime, intended not only to injure and kill individuals but to terrorise an entire group of people. Hate crimes against African Americans have an especially negative impact upon society for the history they recall and perpetuate, potentially intimidates not only African Americans, but other minority, ethnic, and religious groups”.
The 2012 FBI Hate Crime Statistics show that of the 6,222 hate crime incidents involving 7,455 offences as reported in the U.S. Law enforcement agencies Hate Crime Statistics 2011 Report, almost half, 46.9 percent were racially motivated.
On the night of February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed race Hispanic, co-ordinator of a gated community neighbourhood watch in Sanford, Florida assassinated 17-year-old African American High School Student, Trayvon Benjamin Martin. Zimmerman was taken into custody for questioning but later on released the same day by the Sanford Police Department renown for racial stereotyping against the black community in the small city of Sanford over the years. It took public outcry, organised by religious personalities headed by Rev. Alfred Charles “Al” Sharpton, Jr and an awakened community of justice seekers to pressurise Florida’s Republican Governor Richard Lynn “Rick” Scott to appoint a Special Prosecutor for the case.
Zimmerman’s acquittal by a jury of five white and one Puerto Rican exposed how embedded racism has become in the American psyche more than 200 years after Abraham Lincoln had delivered the Emancipation Proclamation (1863). The Rev. Valerie J. Houston lamented on the Sunday after the shocking but not surprising verdict to African Americans on the jury’s decision: “Lord, I thank you for sending Trayvon to reveal the injustices, God, that live in Sanford”. The Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, the same Church which saw the development of a young Baptist clergyman to whom much of today’s commemoration is dedicated re-echoed the worries of Rev. Houston: “Trayvon Benjamin Martin is dead because he and other black boys and men like him are seen not as a person but a problem…The last few weeks have been pivotal to the consciousness of black America. Black men have been stigmatised”.
So, as we commemorate five decades of a gradual leap forward towards an enlarged freedom for African Americans and all of God’s children in the United States in particular and the world at large, as we remember this day the brutal beating of Rodney Glen King, an African American construction worker, by the Los Angeles police officers in 1992, the murder of Trayvon Benjamin Martin because George Zimmerman in his ‘racist thinking cap’ saw the 17-year-old African American teenager as a danger to Zimmerman’s community, not because of the content of Trayvon’s character but the color of his skin – as we remember these and other racially-motivated crimes, the lowly stratification of the African American male, a justice system which treats color as a crime with pockets of organised racial profiling and stereotyping; as we remember these ills and the evil they represent, let us all take a breath and ask ourselves: Is a country that legitimises the depersonalisation and objectification of a sizeable portion of its own people morally worthy enough to call others who treat their own kin and kith in like or even worse manner to order? I know some would see my comments as a blanket characterisation of all white people as racist – never would I say or entertain such thoughts. After all, the people I could call real friends at this juncture of my life are whites. And there is no doubt that in the United States, there is still a fringe segment of white America who will never be cured of their schizophrenia of racism. I am deeply saddened that for what this entire great nation stands for, such a minuscule segment would continue to be more vocal and damaging to the image of the United States. If I say I weep for America, I would be understating the truth, for this country is truly at a crossroads – a road that must divorce itself from the traumatising madness of a malignant racism so that its justice system should really become what it was intended for – ‘equal’ for all regardless of race, sex, social status, religion and/or political lineage.