Letter: MLK Yes? CRT No?

To the Editor:

Questions of my Fellow White People:

I have some questions. Disappointed that Easton voted no on a Resolution on Racism, I want to ask them publicly. They are questions from a white man being asked of other white people, so when I refer to “we” or “us”, I am referring to my fellow white people.

MLK Yes?

In the past year, one phrase from one sentence of one Martin Luther King speech has received much repetition:

“they will not be judged by the color of their skin”

The “they” in the speech are his four children. The “they” in today’s context is us, white people. Why are we using this one line, from this one speech and not including other lines from the same speech or other speeches from the body of work of MLK? Why are we not quoting other activists or social justice leaders? In that speech, MLK said the civil rights work had just begun and we cannot be satisfied until police brutality against blacks has ended or basic black mobility is allowed.

Black people are killed by police at a higher percentage of total police killings than the percentage of their population. Thus the likelihood of being killed by police as a black person is a multiple of that of us. BLM supporters would be the first to say that all lives taken by police should decline. Why can’t we see the urgency of the BLM movement because of the higher rate of police killings of blacks?

In our town, while standing in his own driveway, on his own property a black man was asked by one of us driving by “what are you doing here, do you live here?” Is this black man’s basic mobility as free as MLK dreamed for?

When we use the “ I Have a Dream” speech line, are we assuming, implying projecting that MLK was proposing color-blindness? When we remain blind to the rest of the speech are we also being blind to all its unfulfilled dreams? The rest of the line from MLK’s Dream Speech is that he hopes his children will be “judged by the content of their character.” What does it say about the content of our character when we misappropriate the “color of their skin” reference?

What does it say about the content of our character when we deny white privilege? My father got his custodial job because his boss preferred German immigrants because “they are hardworking and clean”, implicit that others were neither. More recently, when standing next to my father-in-law at his home, by his pool, I was mistaken by a white delivery driver to be “Dr. C” and my anesthesiologist father-in-law to be the Filipino “gardener”.

Every single black person to whom I have spoken to over the past year about these issues has had a story of being approached by police, security guards, “concerned citizens” because they “fit a description” or were deemed to be in the wrong place. Who among us has had this happen? Who among us has had to have “the conversation” with our children?

What does it say about the content of our character when we deny that white is the normative standard? When in “polite white company” do we stop each other from telling racist jokes, do we check that family member who uses the N-word or uses the phrase “ those people”? When we describe someone of color, why do we say things like, “this black guy I know” or “my friend, who happens to be black” but never do when the subject is white? Why when confronted with social and racial self reflection do we try to hide under a false cloak of color blindness? Why do we assume we can announce the absence of racism?

CRT No?

Few of us had heard of Critical Race Theory (CRT) before this year. Fewer of us actually studied it. Yet we reject it immediately. We reject it while having only read the objections to it and not the content of CRT itself, knowing what it’s five pillars are or who some of the Crits are. Why do we reject “anti-racism” and believe systemic racism “died with segregated schools and separate lunch counters”? (see https://www.eastoneye.org/) Why do we believe implicit bias is a “ghost” but not haunted by the reality?

Why don’t we atleast study, discuss, and seek to understand CRT? To be critical is not simply to criticize; to analyze and understand is not just to blame. To be a critical thinker is to study, to reflect, to see, to hear and to feel an alternative point of view. We don’t like “cancel culture” but why are we so swift to cancel CRT and DEI? Why is our rage against CRT justified but the rage of marginalized people is not?

CRT scrutinizes capitalism. Why isn’t our execution of capitalism open to scrutiny? With examples of cronyism, exclusion, corruption and damaging concentration of power, why should we not ask questions about capitalism? Evidence shows that the average net worth of white families to be ten times that of the average black family. Why not have higher expectations of capitalism? If one of the greatest attributes of capitalism is innovation, why are we not willing to innovate the greatest economic system we know?

Do we abrogate CRT because it violates our false interpretation of MLK? Is it because we simply prefer the status quo? What period of status quo should we have maintained? Should we have retained the slave trade because it was the status quo? Should the Missouri Compromise have been maintained because it was the status quo? Should the Emancipation Proclamation have been rejected because it violated the status quo? Should we not have reneged on 40 Acres and Mule which was becoming the status quo? Should we have allowed lynchings and Jim Crow laws to continue because it was status quo? Should suffrage not have been granted to freed slaves because it violated the status quo? Should schools have remained segregated because it was the status quo? Should civil rights legislation not have been passed because they violated the status quo? Why do we not see the rejection of “anti-racism” as supportive of structural and systemic flaws? When exactly will the status quo no longer be acceptable to us?

On the walls of our local elementary school is written that “the purpose of education is to replace an empty head with an open mind”. Why can’t we agree that American history as taught has been incomplete, that implicitly our story, or at least our version of the story, is the one told? Who among us knew of Emit Till, of Kwame Ture, of Black Wall Street, of Juneteenth, of the Cornerstone Speech, of Let Every Voice Sing before the events of the past year? Who among us still does not know? Who among us still thinks our Civil War was fought to free the slaves?

We live in an affluent, predominantly white town. What do we know about not being white? Why are we not willing to introspect? When we study the laws that changed in the 80s that sent more black men to prison for the same drug consumption as whites, why don’t we recognize that as a systemically racist problem? Why do we not see it as a systemic or structural problem when for the same number of crimes committed by whites and blacks, more blacks are arrested? Why is it not systemic racism that for those arrested for the same crimes more blacks are convicted? Why is it not systemic racism that for those convicted of the same crimes, blacks receive longer sentences or harsher convictions? Why is it not a structural problem that the voting rights of felons are removed, disenfranchising entire populations? When we write that addressing “fatherless homes, ineffective schools, poor diet, drug use or crime” would solve the “real problems” what are we saying the “real problems” are? Why are we not asking why those homes are fatherless, why fatherless homes in our town are not a “problem”, why those schools are ineffective, why food deserts exist, why fast food restaurants proliferate in neighborhoods of color, how that drug use compares to our own or why crime exists? Why do we not see the structural and systemic root causes to the complex answers these questions will render? How can we reject CRT and anti-racism, teach our view of history but still feel we are preparing the next generation of policemen, politicians, lawyers and judges that won’t contribute to these systemic and structural problems?

I believe we have some work to do. Answering these questions will be challenging and uncomfortable. I am genuinely interested in your answers. I am very willing to hear what your answers are and what questions you have. You may not like me very much after reading this. If you don’t, do what Abe Lincoln or Julian Edelman suggested: get to know me better. I am willing to get to know you better.

Michael Keden

Easton

image_pdfimage_print