Posted By: Carol M. Pate, Ed.D.
The celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., on January 18th, 2021, comes at the heels of increased visibility of how POVERTY, RACISM and MILITARISM lives in our country now. Poverty, Racism and Militarism are the three evils he identified over 53 years ago at a May 10, 1967 speech to the Hungry Club Forum. While we have prided ourselves on the achievements made over the last five decades, this past year in particular has demonstrated just how far we’ve NOT come.
Martin Luther King called out poverty as an evil that keeps people from obtaining the basic necessities of life. While poverty rates were the lowest in years pre-pandemic, the global pandemic that came rolling in with nationwide lockdowns beginning March 16, 2020, highlighted the enormous burden the COVID-19 virus has on individuals and families living in poverty. News outlets told the burgeoning stories of how 8 million MORE Americans crossed over into the poverty status by September 2020. By then, COVID-19 had already infiltrated into low income communities much more than high income communities. Research reported by TIME.com identified that COVID-19 death rates were about nine times higher in lower-income, predominantly non-white communities, compared to lower-income, mostly white communities. The reasons for higher incidences of COVID-19 in people whose income meets the poverty levels include less access to ICU hospital beds, lower levels of health insurance coverage, home crowding, reliance on public transit use, pollution, age and employment in essential services.
Martin Luther King called out racism as the burden of the Negro supported by the ambivalence of White people. Not long into the pandemic lockdown, our nation saw a horrific reminder of the racism that still exists with the arrest and killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Millions of Americans watched in horror as the police officer in Minneapolis, MN put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 8 and a half minutes until he died. For days and even weeks afterwards, riots erupted across the country, many peaceful but many violent that led to widespread looting and destruction of property.
Racism also raised its ugly head in the number of deaths due to COVID-19. As the CDC reports, “When examining overall age-adjusted rates by race and ethnicity,” the rates for Latinx, Native American and Black Americans are respectively about 3.8, 3.7, and 3.4 times the rate of whites.
As Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, in an interview with Scientific American author Claudia Wallace, succinctly put it,“Racism puts you at higher risk. It does so through two mechanisms: People of color are more infected because we are more exposed and less protected. Then, once infected, we are more likely to die because we carry a greater burden of chronic diseases from living in disinvested communities with poor food options [and] poisoned air and because we have less access to health care."
Martin Luther King saw the horrific outcomes of war and its attention to destruction of the other instead of supporting social programs at home. He didn’t foresee an increased militarism on the part of home-grown right-winged extremist groups attempting to violently change the outcome of our national election through the break-in and armed violence at the Capital Building on January 6th, 2021. Right-wing terrorism refers to the use or threat of violence by sub-national or non-state entities whose goals may include racial, ethnic, or religious supremacy; opposition to government authority; and the end of practices like abortion. Right-wing terrorists generally criticize the democratic state for “its liberal social welfare policies and tolerance of diverse opinion—alongside its permitting of dark-skinned immigrants in the national labor force and of Jews and other minorities in positions of power or influence.” Home-grown militarism and their violent tactics have been a growing concern for the last decade. Social media combined with our primary sheltered-in status due to the pandemic has significantly increased the number of possible conspiracy and other violent theories to thrive in people’s minds waiting for an opportunity to strike.
The poverty, racism and militarism that live in our country today makes the 2021 Martin Luther Day theme “Urgency of Creating a Beloved Community” much more poignant and necessary.
King described the “Beloved Community” as a society where “caring and compassion drive political policies that support the worldwide elimination of poverty and hunger and all forms of bigotry and violence. At its core, the “Beloved Community” is an engine of reconciliation.”
What is it going to take to change our current story of poverty, racism and militarism to one where caring and compassion drive political policies?
“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
What will it take for us to envision the inter-related structure of reality that Martin Luther King knew and understood so well?
There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community. MLK - April 15, 1960, in Raleigh, North Carolina
What will it take for us to create our beloved community?
As we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King on January 18, 2021, it is hoped that the past year’s events, experiences, learnings and actions spurs us to reclaim his words and actions to change the current story around our democracy to one that more meaningfully represents our beloved coutry.
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