Making it In Spite of and Not Because Of

Lincoln Submitting the Emancipation Proclamati...

Lincoln Submitting the Emancipation Proclamation to His Cabinet (Photo credit: Marion Doss)

Martin Luther King wrote in 1964 that although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War had been won for the Union, “there was not a just peace. Equality had never arrived.”

And still, equality hasn’t.

King, in his introduction to Why We Can’t Wait wrote that “Negroes were with George Washington at Valley Forge…the first American to shed blood in the revolution which freed his country was a black man named Crispus Attucks.”  King wrote that one of the team who designed the capital of this nation was a black man, Benjamin Banneker…”

“Wherever there was hard work, dirty work, dangerous work – in the mines, on the docks, in the blistering foundries – Negroes had done more than their share…”

And still, no justice, and little respect.

There can be little doubt, as we watch the goings on in the Trayvon Martin case, that the struggle for African-Americans to get justice in this country is still not over. In this particular case, race is not the only issue; Florida’s “stand your ground” law is equally culpable in having created the mess with which the Martin family is facing. Yet, there is a seething rage among blacks and an uncomfortable acknowledgement among whites that if the shooter had been black, and the victim white, the story unfolding would be vastly different.

I have long come to understand that blacks have made the gains we have in this country not because this is America but in spite of the fact that this is America. The presence of structural and institutional racism, even in the absence of stark and obvious racism, has made every step African-Americans have taken very difficult, and yet, African-Americans have pressed on. We have used the United States Constitution even though that document was never meant to secure or guarantee our freedoms or even our right to be here.

The parents of Trayvon Martin are to be commended, because they are standing on their constitutional rights and are demanding justice.  Interestingly, even when the United States Supreme Court has made rulings that should have made life easier and more just for African-Americans, there has been concerted effort to delay honoring the high court’s ruling; after Brown vs. Board of Education, many white school districts closed their schools rather than integrate.

Yet, African-Americans pressed on for justice, just as Trayvon’s parents are pressing on.

It would be such a relief if these types of struggles were over. It would be such a relief if race didn’t still have a seat front and center in so much of American life, but it does, and we refuse to acknowledge her presence and her power in our society.

Kudos to Trayvon Martin’s parents, who refuse to give up. When everyone takes off their hoodies, I only hope that they don’t abandon their determination to make sure race-based injustice doesn’t continue to be a staple of American life. It is so past time for our story to change.

A candid observation …

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