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.

Past Columns
Give Hope for the Holidays

November 24, 2021

Climate Action Plan

September 1, 2021

Support Transportation Fund

October 21, 2020

Census Countdown

September 30, 2020

Don’t Fence Us Out

July 22, 2020

Back to the wild

May 6, 2020

Every Other Weekly?

April 1, 2020

Unified Command

March 18, 2020

Kids World

January 29, 2020

Fierce Urgency of Now

January 15, 2020

The Three Rs

December 18, 2019

Saying Goodbye

December 11, 2019

Cold and Alone

December 4, 2019

Big Money Politics

November 13, 2019

A Win for the Birds

July 24, 2019

Road to ‘Nowhere’

June 26, 2019

Game Changes

April 24, 2019

Salish Sea Science

January 23, 2019

Cherry Point Amendments

January 16, 2019

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Check out the invitational exhibit “Among the Trees” for the final week from 11am-5pm Friday through Sunday in Edison at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court. The show features works by numerous…

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Saturday
Paintings of My Life, In Dialogue

11:00am

View Beth Anna Margolis’ “Paintings of My Life” from 11am-4pm Tuesdays through Saturdays through Feb. 23 (closed on Thanksgiving) at Gallery Syre, 465 W. Stuart Rd. The show features a…

Fall Juried Show Closing Week

11:00am

View a “Fall Juried Show” in Lynden for the final week from 11am-7pm Tuesday and Wednesday, and 11am-5pm Friday at the Jansen Art Center, 321 Front St. Also on display are “From Then ‘Til…

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8:00am

Celebrate autumn by taking advantage of the last Washington State Free Parks Day of 2021. A Discover Pass won’t be needed for day-use visits at state parks, so explore nearby locales to your…

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8:00am

Peruse glassworks, woodworks, metalworks, jewelry, paintings, knit-wear and more at a Holiday Bazaar featuring one-of-a-kind gifts from Whatcom County artists from 8am-5pm daily through…

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9:30am

Kids, adults and adventurers can join Wild Whatcom for a “Wild Things” community program exploring local trails and parks from 9:30am-11am every Friday. Please bring a simple, healthy snack,…

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Allied Arts’ annual Holiday Festival of the Arts takes place from 10am-7pm daily through Dec. 24 (except on Thanksgiving) at 1411 Railroad Ave. The five-week-long festival will feature works…

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10:00am

Join the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association for the final Salmon Sighting events of the season taking place from 10am-1pm Friday, and 12pm-3pm Saturday at Bellingham’s Arroyo Park. Join…

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10:00am

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10:00am

“Future Artifacts” shows from 10am-5pm daily through Nov. 27 in La Conner at the Museum of Northwest Art, 121 S. First St. The exhibit features work by Lummi Nation glass artist Dan Friday,…

Amy Popelka at Good Earth

11:00am

Works by featured artist Amy Popelka can be seen for the final week from 11am-5pm daily through Saturday, and 11am-4pm Sunday at Good Earth Pottery, 1000 Harris Ave.

Among the Trees

11:00am

Check out the invitational exhibit “Among the Trees” for the final week from 11am-5pm Friday through Sunday in Edison at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court. The show features works by numerous…

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11:00am

Anita Lehmann’s “Studio Conversations: Short Stories” can be viewed from 11am-6pm daily (except Tuesdays) through November in Mount Vernon at Perry and Carlson Gallery, 504 S. First St. Masks…

Quilt Exhibits in La Conner

11:00am

From 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday, visit La Conner’s Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, 703 S. Second St. Currently on display are “Dia de los Muertos: A Day of Remembrance,”…

Morris and Obbink

11:00am

View works by sculptor Ann Morris and landscape-inspired watercolors and colored pencil works by Kim Obbink for the final weekend from 11am-5pm Friday through Sunday in Edison at Smith &…

Small Arts Works Juried Show

11:00am

Stanwood-Camano Arts Guild’s “Small Art Works” regional juried art show can be viewed from 11am-5pm Wednesdays through Saturdays through Jan. 13 at A Guilded Gallery, 8700 271st St.…

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11:00am

View “Dendritic Signals” for the final week from 11am-4pm Wednesday through Saturday at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. The show features abstract artwork in a variety of mediums and colors,…

Lorna Libert at Scott Milo

11:00am

New Pacific Northwest oils by Bellingham-based artist Lorna Libert will be featured from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Saturdays through Nov. 27 at the Scott Milo Gallery, 420 Commercial Ave.…

Mindport Exhibits

11:00am

One-hour reservation slots are now open for household groups or pods of up to 10 people from 11am-6pm Tuesdays through Saturdays at Mindport Exhibits, 210 W. Holly St. In the months they were…

Up Close and Personal at Whatcom Museum

12:00pm

View “Up Close & Personal: The Body in Contemporary Art,” “Artists x Artists,” “The Fairhaven Hotel,” “People of the Sea and Cedar: A Journey Through the Tribal Cultures and History of the…

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm

The annual “Deck the Old City Hall” returns starting this weekend from 12pm-5pm Friday through Sunday at Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall, 121 Prospect St. View a variety of themed, decorated…

Rebel Artists Black Friday Market

3:00pm

Rebel Artists of Whatcom County will host a Black Friday Market from 3pm-7pm at the Commercial Street Plaza, 1315 Commercial St. The outdoor vendor market will feature local artists and…

Fairhaven Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm

Attend the Fourth Friday Art Walk taking place from 5pm-8pm at galleries and venues throughout historic Fairhaven. Meet artists, see demos, enjoy entertainment and celebrate local creative…

The Lights of Christmas

5:00pm

Attend “A Drive-Thru Christmas” from 5pm-10pm Friday through Sunday in Stanwood at Warm Beach Park, 20800 Marine Dr. The illuminating experience features more than a million lights, festive…

Genre Legends

7:30pm

At 7:30pm and 9:30pm on Friday and Saturday, “Genre Legends” will take the stage at the Sylvia Center for the Arts, 207 Prospect St. Watch the players pick multiple genres for each show and…

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

7:30pm

Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and, of course, Rudolph will make appearances when Music Theatre International’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed…

A Christmas Carol

8:00pm

One of the Skagit Valley’s favorite holiday traditions continues when A Christmas Carol opens this weekend with showings at 8pm Friday and Saturday, and 2:30pm Sunday in Mount Vernon at the…

Shakedown Shows

9:00pm

Fretts, JP Falcon Grady, and an “It’s Kizmet” drag show start at 9pm Fri., Nov. 26 at the Shakedown, 1212 N. State St. The COVID Relief Benefit Show for Make.Shift Art Space will be followed…