By Jean H Charles
This August 28, 2013, the March to Washington led by Dr Martin Luther King celebrated its 50th anniversary. Indeed on August 28, 1963, spurred by the violence in Montgomery, Alabama, against the black population seeking advance in civil rights promised by the Emancipation one hundred years earlier, 250,000 black and white people marched on Washington by bus and by train to hear Dr Martin Luther King deliver the speech inspired by the Scriptures that I have a dream my children will not be judged by or discriminated against because of the color of their skin.
Fifty years later a black President Barack Obama stood at the same podium at the Lincoln Memorial to deliver the address that even Martin Luther King did not foresee in his wildest dreams. He was wrestling with President Lyndon Johnson to engage more forcefully into economic justice, racial equality and jobs for the black population of the United States.
Fifty years later this essay could also be labeled the state of state of the black population not only in the United States but the state of state of black people in the Caribbean, in Brazil and the rest of Latin America, in Europe and in the motherland Africa.
It is a much improved state than in 1963 but it is still a bleak state.
In the United States
Fifty years later, the black population that represents some 44.5 million people out of a population of 313 million still lingers in the situation of lack of education, unemployment or underemployment and living in fragile conditions in spite of the fact that a black president has been re-elected by a comfortable margin.
In the area of education, while 33% of the white population holds a high school diploma only 19% of blacks are in a possession of such a certificate of basic education. A black student by the age of 17 years old is four years behind a white student. It will take 30 years to fill the gap in reading deficit and 75 years to fill the gap in mathematics deficit between the white and the black population.
In the area of economy, the black middle class is saddled with a constant threat of a downward generational drop in income. My own daughter, a recent college graduate, was lucky enough to find a job in her field of study. But her income is so low that I have to help her with the monthly payments on her educational loan of $40,000, which becomes due after graduation. This situation is repeated all over America for the average middle class family.
The gap in the scale of income, as presented by Angel Harris, in the economic and educational state of black Americans in the 21st century, is telling. The bottom scale of black middle class centered at $16,320, while it is centered at $33,864 for the white middle class. The top tier stands at $139,357 for the black middle class while it peaks at $213,825 for the average white middle class.
The intelligent black leadership of fifty years ago that produced the March to Washington has yielded its throne to a cosmetic black leadership more prone to use the global marketing power of the United States to spread sometimes the worst that the American culture has to offer in music, arts, and mores. The “I have a dream” of Dr Martin Luther King is definitely a work in progress in the United States. It needs corrective lenses worn by progressive leaders to align itself in the right orbit.
In the Caribbean
Fifty years later, the Caribbean area is enjoying a state of independence in almost all the islands. This independence did not necessarily bring hospitality for all in the homeland. In fact, a large migration towards Canada, Britain and the United States has depleted the economy of the Caribbean of the grey matter necessary to produce vibrant nations. Relying mainly on tourism as the lever of the economy, these islands surf according to the wave of prosperity or downturn in Europe and in the United States.
Fifty years earlier, Haiti, which was then in the grasp of the Duvalier dictatorship, has evolved through democracy but it still does not provide hospitality for the majority of the population. Dr Martin Luther King as an honorary citizen of Haiti would express the same dream of seeing the mass of nine million people out of the population of ten million people get out of extreme poverty and extreme depravation.
In Latin America
It a secret a la polichinelle that there are black people in Latin America; we find them in Brazil brought there by the Middle Passage. We find them also in Panama and Colombia, specifically near the Atlantic coast where the manpower came from Jamaica, Haiti and the other islands at the turn of 1900 to build the Panama Canal. Their descendants linger in quasi poverty in an economy that is evolving better for the Spanish speaking population. The black population in Latin America is a silent one that did not have the glamour and the vision of a Dr Martin Luther King to speak up or dream for them.
The former center of attraction for colonized Africa is still drawing not only African material resources; it is also drawing its human resources since the decolonization. They come by boat illegally and by plane legally to study. The Africans in Europe occupy the lower scale of the economy. Those who came from the former French colonial entities are caught in the dilemma of repressive regimes at home and unwelcoming mat in France or Belgium. They have created their own ghettos that become hot spots for sporadic violence internally and externally. The seeming sense of entitlement observed in America does not even exist in Europe for the black population.
Fifty years later, apartheid South Africa is no longer the rule. Nelson Mandela has brought the spirit of Martin Luther King to Africa, yet apartheid Rhodesia that became independent Zimbabwe has been replaced by an illiberal regime that rules through the ballot or outside the ballot as an autocratic government with no concern for its citizens. In East Africa or West Africa, in Northern Africa or South Africa, the picture is almost the same, division by clans or by religions (Muslim versus Christian) is wasting the lives of the citizens and eroding their precious mineral resources. And, there is no visible light at the end of the tunnel.
President Barack Obama might be brilliant on the new marching order of brotherhood, solidarity, citizenship and hospitality for all in his speech at the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate the momentous moment, of fifty years after the march, yet he remains an elusive equal opportunity president that timidly pursues the vision of Dr Martin Luther King or even draping himself with the courage of President Lyndon B Johnson to confront the conservative block to build an America that shall become the beacon, the star and the model for the rest of the world.
The America of Dr Martin Luther King and of President Lyndon Johnson is a work in progress that is shattering away, everyday, in our own eyes for our own children as well as for the children of all the black people in this world! May the next fifty years after the speech of “I have a dream” bring better prospects for the descendants of those extracted from Africa to toil in America in slavery some five hundred years ago!