Community

Dr. King’s legacy endures, but so does racism

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

You might not think you’re a racist, but you probably benefit from racism.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, at the age of 39, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee. If Dr. King were alive today, he would be 90 years old on January 15. We observe Martin Luther King Day each year, on the third Monday of January, as a celebration of Dr. King’s remarkable life and the work to which he dedicated that life.

As a pastor, scholar, orator, political organizer and a movement builder, Dr. King had a profound impact in the United States and around the world―in his own time and in the five decades since his death.

In a professional career that spanned just 14 years, Dr. King gave over 2,500 speeches and sermons, wrote five books and dozens of articles, and was the youngest person at that time to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

In this prodigious body of work, Dr. King demonstrated repeatedly that his most profound contribution was as a moral philosopher. While he never doubted the potential for goodness in every individual, he saw the forces of racism, economic injustice, and violence that often seem to be hard-wired into the American political and economic structure as evidence of moral misdirection at a societal level.

As early as 1954 in a sermon in Detroit, he said that “The great problem facing modern man is that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live…If we are to go forward, if we are to make this a better world in which to live, we’ve got to go back. We’ve got to rediscover these precious values that we’ve left behind.”

Thirteen years later, he was still on message.

In his April 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam” at the Riverside Church in New York, he said, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

The struggle to which Dr. King dedicated his life would today be recognized as a struggle against systemic racism.

Systemic racism exists when public policies, institutional practices, and cultural norms work in various ways to perpetuate racial group inequity.

In the United States, systemic racism has been responsible for, among other things, Indian cultural genocide, slavery, Japanese internment camps, school segregation, real estate red lining and voter discrimination.

Even when laws are passed to correct blatant examples of systemic racism, the long-term impacts are felt for generations.

Today, the effects of systemic racism can be found in every aspect of society. For children and families of color, it affects where they live, the quality of education they receive, their access to healthy food, their income, their access to health care, their exposure to harmful environmental impacts, and their interactions with the criminal justice system.

Most thoughtful people today recognize that individual racism and bigotry are wrong. These are acts that intentionally express hate, prejudice, or bias, based on race. Yet, people who would never dream of engaging in individual racism may not realize that systemic racism is very much alive and a factor in Whatcom County. More important, many people who would not see themselves as racist benefit directly from systemic racism.

Today, we can each honor Dr. King’s legacy by educating ourselves about the ways systemic racism operates in Whatcom County. We can ask questions such as these:

1, How do employment rates among people of color and white people compare in Whatcom County? 

2. What are the suspension and graduation rates among students of color in our local schools?  How often are students of color subjected to racist bullying in our area schools?

3. How often do people of color in Whatcom County get pulled over by police or receive extra scrutiny in stores?

4. What are the demographic characteristics of the desirable neighborhoods in Whatcom County?

5. Who has equitable access to affordable housing and health care in Whatcom County?

6. How do I personally benefit from systemic racism in Whatcom County? 

You can learn more about the roots of racism in our community at the 21st annual Martin Luther King Conference sponsored by the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force on Sat. Jan. 19 at the Syre Center at Whatcom Community College. Then plan to celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy at the first annual Unity Ball at the Majestic from 8:00 to 12:00 that evening. You can learn more about these events at http://www.whrtf.org.

Victor Nolet is a member of the board of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force and a professor in the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University.

March Silver Reef
Past Columns
Salish Sea Science

January 23, 2019

Cherry Point Amendments

January 16, 2019

Invest in the Future

September 26, 2018

A Desperate Call

August 29, 2018

Criminalizing Protest

July 18, 2018

Threshold Fund

June 13, 2018

Imprisoned Splendour

May 9, 2018

Pathways to Homeownership

April 25, 2018

Yes on I-1631

April 11, 2018

Divide-and-Conquer

October 11, 2017

Schools and Planning for Growth

September 27, 2017

Electronic Home Monitoring

September 13, 2017

Events
Today
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

12:00pm

Imagine Convergence on Orcas Island

12:00pm|Rosario Resort

Peter Pan, A Musical Adventure

7:00pm|Meridian High School

Dyo Festival Plays

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Bellingham Puppetry and Mask Festival

7:30pm|Alternative Library

SICBA Home & Garden Show

11:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

Tarnation, Ryan Stiles

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

The Pageturners

7:30pm|ACT Annex

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Honeywagon Runs

8:00am|Riverside Park

Nordic Roots Seminar

9:00am|United Methodist Church

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Squalicum Creek

Native Plant Sale

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Make It and Take it

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

WNPS Field Trip

9:00am|Breazeale Interpretive Center

Spring Studio Seconds Sale

10:00am|Blue Water Pottery

Quilt Museum Annex Open House

10:00am|Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum

Youth Ag Day

10:00am|Skagit Farmers Supply

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Skagit Beer Week

11:00am|Skagit Valley

Dahlias Made Easy

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Free My Heart

12:00pm|Village Books

Tax Help Available

12:30pm|First Congregational Church

Fidalgo and Mount Baker Youth Symphonies

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Forest Bathing

1:00pm|Rockport State Park

A Family Immigration Story

1:00pm

Cheese Classes

5:00pm|Chuckanut Center

PechuKucha Night

5:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Contra Dance with the Alphabeats

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Manouche NW Concert Series

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Giovanni & the Camino of St. Francis

7:00pm|Village Books

Gabriel and Rebecca Manalac

7:30pm|Jansen Art Center

Skagit Symphony's Masterpiece Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

The Hunts
Tomorrow
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Imagine Convergence on Orcas Island

12:00pm|Rosario Resort

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

12:00pm

SICBA Home & Garden Show

11:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

The Pageturners

7:30pm|ACT Annex

Skagit Beer Week

11:00am|Skagit Valley

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

History Tour

12:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Legally Blonde, the Musical

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Murder & Mayhem

3:00pm|Everson Library

Poems for Peace

3:00pm|The Happy Place

Powerful in pink

3:00pm

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Classy Comedy

7:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Village Books The Hunts
Monday
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

12:00pm

Skagit Beer Week

11:00am|Skagit Valley

Community Soup Kitchen

6:00pm|Little Cheerful Cafe

Monday Night Pizza

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme Commons

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Open Mic Night

7:00pm|Village Books

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »

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