Last month, we paid tribute to one of the most influential Americans of my generation, indeed, of any time in our country’s history, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. As a “child of the 60s,” I remember vividly the struggles led by Dr. King and clearly can recall the year my school in Birmingham, Alabama was integrated. In contrast to the violence, boycotting, and “standing in the doorway” histrionics at some schools, we — in the middle-class suburb of Fairfield — had none of that. Our integration with black students, which occurred in 1967 (my junior year of high school), was not only uneventful, it was a truly remarkable time in my life and the lives of my classmates.
Our school and the little suburban world we lived in was enriched — culturally, athletically, and educationally — with the addition of black students. We all grew — as students and people — with the experience of integration after years of segregation. The black students I went to school with were interested in the same things I was — an education. We studied together, we sang together, we played athletics together, and we all grew together. And those experiences were all due to the efforts of Dr. King and others who broke down barriers and, through civil disobedience, fought to become a truly equal and integral part of American society.
As I think back on those stressful but incredibly enlightening times for me, personally, I also look around today bewildered. I wonder about how Dr. King would view the world we live in today. In our times of “political correctness,” I wonder how Dr. King would view our society’s “progress” toward his goal of integration and racial equality. I think he might be surprised at what he sees. Dr. King fought hard and, ultimately, died for a society that was “color blind.” I believe Dr. King wanted one society with equal rights and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race or religion.
As I look around, I see a more pernicious form of segregation today than I saw 30 years ago. It appears to me that we are moving farther and farther away from a “color blind” society and closer and closer to a more subtle, but no less distinct, form of segregation.
To make my point, let me give you a “what if” to think about. What if Rupert Murdock or some other non-black multimillionaire announced to the world, on Martin Luther King Day 2006, that he was starting a new television network. This television network would present programming directed to the white demographic, specifically white adults between the ages of 18 and 49. This network would be called “White Entertainment Television” with the call letters, “WET.” The cable and satellite network would also be presenting the first of an annual “Miss White America Pageant” in the summer. In the fall, programming would also include the first of an annual “Image Awards” ceremony which would honor white Americans who have made significant contributions to American white culture. What if, in making his announcement, the fictitious owner stated:
“White Entertainment Television (WET) is the first and only television network in the United States primarily devoted to the attraction of white viewers. Launched with a paltry $100 million investment in 2000, the white-owned and operated, basic-cable franchise had grown into a diversified, $500 million media enterprise by late 2004. Nonetheless, WET has become much more than just a basic-cable network since its humble beginnings. By 2004, WET Holdings owned and operated a broad array of white-oriented media products, including: White Entertainment Television, the basic-cable network; YSB (“Young Sisters and Brothers”), a magazine targeted at white youths; “White Politics,” a magazine offering analysis and commentary on contemporary issues facing white America; Action Pay-Per-View, a national, satellite-delivered, pay-per-view movie channel based in Birmingham, AL.; WET International, a provider of WET programming throughout Scandinavia and other predominantly white foreign markets; Identity Television, a London-based cable service targeting white European viewers; WET Productions, a subsidiary providing technical and production services to outside companies; WET Radio Network, a radio service providing news and entertainment packages to affiliated stations across the U.S.; and WET Pictures, a joint venture with Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation to produce and distribute white, family-oriented films.”
Let me continue to ask what the country’s response would be to this white multimillionaire announcing that, starting in January, 2006, his company would be publishing two new magazines. A monthly magazine, “Ivory,” would have in depth articles about white leaders in politics, entertainment, and sports. The second magazine, a weekly called “Vanilla,” would be primarily a news format with current events relating to the white world. Incidentally, the mogul announced that he would be sponsoring, in January, 2006, the first annual “Historically White College All-Star Game” for football.
What do you think the country’s response would be to such announcements? I think I know what that response would be. Outrage. Boycotts. Death threats. Protests. Quite probably, mass rioting. My question is simply this: Why is it “politically correct” to have all of the above — i.e. broadcasting networks, beauty pageants, “Image Awards” events, publications, and sports events — celebrating one race when they would be abhorrent if these same things were held by another race? I am honestly asking for a perspective and some insight.
[As an aside, the fictional "press statement" quoted above is taken from a company statement taken off Johnson Publishing's web site. Johnson Publishing, founded in 1942 by Robert Johnson, owns and operates all the entities mentioned in the above statement. References to "black" were simply changed to "white." Other word substitutions and paraphrasing were done to make the point.]
In Dr. King’s dream for American society, is there a legitimate justification for such racial separation? Was not Dr. King’s goal integration — not segregation? Indeed, Dr. King was reviled by the “Black Power” movement in his time for seeking integration not separatism, as championed by Malcolm X and his followers. Dr. King was strongly criticized by the Black Power and the Black Muslim sect leaders as misguided and, yes, even an “Uncle Tom” for seeking integration within the American community. Racial integration was anathema to the Black Power and the Black Muslim (now known as Nation of Islam) movements. But, in my understanding, it was integral to the philosophy of Dr. King.
I wonder, now, in our “enlightened” time of political and cultural “correctness,” what Dr. King would think of our efforts toward integration? In a time when non-whites (I am not sure that is politically correct but what I mean by that is “persons of color” — is even that currently P.C.?) enjoy unsurpassed popularity and influence in all fields of endeavor in our society, is there an acceptable rationale for any racial segregation? In my fantasy example, why is it acceptable in our society to have BET and not WET? Why is there no public outcry when an event like “Miss Black America” airs when, if someone actually did propose a “Miss White America” pageant they would be, I have no doubt, called racist, exclusionary, and bigoted? To me, that seems paradoxical. To me, it sounds much more like a manifesto of segregation than it does the teachings of Dr. King.
Will we ever — can we ever — be one society? A society equal and color blind? Will Dr. King’s vision ever be clearly realized, or are we slipping, ever so slowly, toward the preaching of a different, more dangerous, type of segregation movement? Specifically, are we becoming a society that is racially “equal but separate?” And, if that is true, I wonder aloud: Is that what Dr. King saw in his dream?