If some of these young people had been immersed in history, they might understand why the Black unemployment rate is twice that of the White rate. If they had books and speeches by Dr. King, who spoke of racial disparities in much of his work, they would understand the many ways the struggle continues. But popular culture suggests that when Black folks and White folks can both act extreme fools on reality shows (I think I blanked out after about a minute of “Bad Girls Club”); there is some measure of equality.
There has been a rich history and legacy of struggle and protest that has been swallowed by the notion of post-racialism in the first decades of this century. It is laudable that President Obama will use both the Bible of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and that of President Abraham Lincoln, connecting the 150-year-old dots. President Obama’s choice in using both Bibles in this anniversary year is a testament to his sensitivity and ability to juggle the tightrope he must manage as both president of the United States and the first African-American president of our nation.
Most folks 50 and older get it. What about those who are both younger than our nation’s median age and unschooled in the nuances of history? Is our conversation about race in America stuck in some kind of time warp, where we are unable to speak cross generationally because we have extremely different memories, recollections, and knowledge about that which happened fifty years ago?
We do our nation a disservice when we duck and dodge our racially tinged history. We have to grace and embrace the past in order to move forward with our future.
Somehow this is a message that needs to be transmitted to young people, especially in this 150th year after emancipation, this 50th year after the March on Washington, this season of embracing and celebrating our history.
(Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is president emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.)