As I write this, today is Martin Luther King Day. I must say, I am both thankful for the work he did and reminded that much of the job remains to be done. Now, to speak plainly, I’m a white guy. I am unaware of any racial slight that I may have ever encountered in my lifetime, and I know the color of my skin grants me privileges denied to other Americans. So…why should I care about equal rights?
Because, folks, none of us are free.
“None of Us Are Free” was a song written by Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann, and Brenda Russel, and was first recorded by Ray Charles in 1993. However, most people are more familiar with the 2002 version that was recorded by Solomon Burke. If you’ve never heard the song, I recommend you click on the link above and give it a listen as the song makes my point better than I can in some respects. My point, of course, is that a free society is an all or nothing gambit. Either we are all free or we are all in some way enslaved.
Don’t believe me? Well then, let me give an example or two.
In June 1964 two white guys named Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner got in a car with their mutual black friend James Chaney and drove from Ohio to Mississippi (and, if you know your history, you know this story didn’t end well for any of those guys). All three of three young men were civil rights workers from Miami of Ohio (my alma mater). The black guy, Mr. Chaney, was naturally fighting for the rights of people like himself. The two white guys, however, were also passionate about the cause regardless of the advantage whites enjoyed in this society.All three were brutally murdered by the
All three were brutally murdered by the Kul Klux Klan and it took a massive search effort to find their mangled bodies.
To the Klan, it did not matter at all that two of their victims were white. All that mattered to those murders was that all three men shared the same beliefs. Now, you may ask, “If Goodman and Schwerner had just ‘minded their own business’ would they be alive today?” That is, I concede, possibly true. However, they would be alive but not free. Face it, if the only beliefs you are allowed to express are those sanctioned by the KKK, then you are a slave and they are your masters.
Similarly, I while serving in Iraq, had the chance to meet a man who once tortured people for Uday Hussein. What this man did to other human beings with a knife was truly sick, and I will not describe it here. But when I asked him why he did it, I was surprised by his answer. He said that if he did not do as he was told he knew he’d be the next man Uday ordered tortured. It seems that in Saddam’s Iraq, nobody was free…not even the man wielding the knife.
Frankly, I find this reasoning sufficient to motivate white folks, like me, to support equal rights. but that is a negative reason I admit. I do, however, have a positive reason for supporting Dr. King’s cause…I don’t want to be led by morons!
In a society where only white people can advance to top leadership positions, necessarily a lot of qualified non-white folks are left out of the game. And why should I accept second or third best as my leader? Would it not be in my best interests to work for the better supervisor who would keep the company in business for longer? Because, unless race is taken out of the supervisor selection criteria, how can I know if my boss is really the best guy to lead me?
Orchestras discovered this phenomena when they started doing blind auditions. In the old days, orchestras were predominately made up of white, male musicians. But were they the best musicians available? NO! Once they put up a curtain between the musician auditioning and the folks who did the hiring, American orchestras got a lot more diverse and started sounding a lot better.
Which brings us back to the unfinished work of Dr. Martin Luther King. Folks, we’ve still got a lot of problems and our society is far from free and fair. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014 the median household income for whites was $71,300 compared to $43,300 for blacks. And for college-educated whites, the median household income was $106,600, compared to the $82,300 for households headed by college-educated blacks. Also according to the American Journal of Public Health black Americans are three times more likely to be killed by police than whites. These are just two examples but I could certainly go on and on…and on. By almost every measure whites are doing disproportionally better than anybody else in this country, not by merit but by racism.
And, folks, until the playing field gets leveled, none of us are free.
By Clayton J. Callahan