January 16, 2006

MLK, 2006

As you enjoy your day off -- or check in from work, those of you unlucky enough to get called in by your soulless corporate overlords -- take a moment to reflect on the ways the social movements of the '60s have changed the fabric of early-twenty-first century life. And how far it has yet to go.

The SB is divided into 'good' and 'bad' neighborhoods, naturally: the first few blocks just south of Notre Dame and the old houses nestled against the river are the 'good', and the slightly dilapidated homes tucked behind aging strip malls form the 'bad'. The faces of ND, the faces in the 'good' neighborhoods, the faces you'll see if you venture into one of the big-box stores -- which are inaccessible except by car, placed north of the incorporated part of the town, where land is cheap and taxes are low -- are overwhelmingly white, in the 75% range, with another 15% asian. But a walk or bike ride through the 'bad' neighborhoods reveals that this town is probably 30% black.

ND is a cultural icon here in the SB, at least among the white folks. Why are black folks so underrepresented? Religion probably plays a part -- surveys of students find upwards of 90% of undergrads here identify as Catholic, and, while lacking evidence, I'm fairly confident that black Americans are more likely to be Protestant than Catholic. But certainly the socioeconomics of race plays a role: how many families in the 'bad' neighborhoods can afford to send their children to one of the private schools? Indiana public schools, especially out here where property values are so low, are shitholes; you'd have to be incredibly motivated to graduate from a public high school and be sufficiently prepared for a school of Notre Dame's calibre. And that's assuming your parents could afford the $30k a year in tuition.

Much the same is true of Northwestern and the University of Chicago: ridiculously expensive, extremely prestigious, and overwhelmingly white. Community and city colleges, and the Universities of Indiana and Illinois, are left to pick up the slack: affordable, accessible to more than the top 5% of high school graduates, much more ethnically diverse, and consistently underfunded by the state that supports them. Indiana, at least, is trying to find a little more money to build its community college system, thirty years late.

An excellent long quotation from MLK here; do read the whole thing, or go out a pick up a copy of his Letter. MLK was not just a political activist, he was a student of both philosophy and theology, and it shows in these passages: a public intellectual the likes we have not seen in decades.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

He is sorely missed, even by those of us who never had the chance to know his work first-hand.

No comments: