Dawud Walid: Let’s Have Some Uncomfortable Convos on MLK Day

http://blogs.detroitnews.com/politics/2014/01/14/lets-uncomfortable-convos-mlk-day/

As we reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I hope that we can expand our conversations about him and his contemporary relevance into the land of the uncomfortable. Although we cannot say with complete certainty how MLK wouldy view some of the issues facing us today, such as the current state of race relations, the criminal justice system and accountability within the Black community, we can safely say that he’d be both pleased by some of the progress that we’ve made while being concerned about the need to confront specific issues in a more robust fashion.

Within this framework, I’d like to float three suggested topics for us to discuss this MLK Day in Metro Detroit.

Racism Among ‘People of Color’ Racism and prejudice is not simply a black-and-white issue. There are shades of grey in between pertaining to how People of Color (PoC) have racial tensions among themselves. In Metro Detroit, this particularly holds true with Arab/Chaldean relations with Black Americans. The reality that Arab and Chaldean Americans own the majority of gas stations, party and grocery stores, cash checking businesses in the corporate limits of Detroit in which they do not reside is a major part of the tension.

This is compounded by mutual projected stereotypes, which exasperates tensions based upon the primary relationships between these groups being predominately transactional in nature. Add on to it derogatory terms hurled both ways by too many such as calling Blacks “abeed” (slaves in Arabic) and referring to Arabs as “AY-rabs” just adds fuel to the fire. Thus, recent situations such as an alleged sexual assault by a Chaldean upon a Black woman off of Gratiot on the Eastside at a check cashing spot, to a robbery at a Arab-owned gas station perpetrated by a Black man ends up racialized in both communities. How we bring Arabs, Chaldeans and Blacks into regular community discussions, without the name-calling, is a conversation much needed.

Mass Incarceration The amount of Americans in our jails and prisons should be our national shame. The “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” has the world’s highest incarceration population, more than large countries with notorious human rights records such as China and Russia. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately incarcerated per their demographic percentages. And although poverty does play a role in crime, we know that our prisons are filled with non-violent drug offenders. Given that Whites use and sell drugs at the same rates they are in the population, yet Blacks and Latinos make up the major incarcerated for such crimes, we need to discuss not only reforming drug sentencing laws but also how selective policing and prosecution as well as sentencing, which are clearly influenced by race, can be tackled in our nation.

Increased Internal Black Community Accountability All ethnic communities have their dysfunctions and misfits. Look no further than the recent hijinks with Toronto’s crack cocaine smoking Mayor Rob Ford to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate.

As a Black man, I say with great pain that I think my community has come to accept the unacceptable.

Over 7 out of 10 Black children in Detroit are born out of wedlock, and too many dads are absent from the lives of their children. Children with only one parent in their lives are more likely to drop out of high school and end up in the criminal justice system; this is an empirical reality.

In addition, too many of us make too many excuses for our goofball politicians who break the public trust. Again, I know that all ethnic groups have this issue, but we can ill-afford to have the likes of Detroit City Council Member George Cushingberry Jr. (or should I say Kushingberry, kush being a type of cannabis) holding a public trust and being perceived as some as a role model. P

oliticians such Kwame Kilpatrick, Monica Conyers, Charles Pugh and now George Cushingberry Jr. have been given too many passes for too long. Our religious institutions and community organizations must to be more bold to publicly address the rise of cultural depravity which is negatively influencing our community.

I know that what I’ve stated is controversial and may be offensive to some. MLK also talked about controversial issues from desegregation to the end of the bloodshed in Vietnam. He was not popular when he was assassinated; however, he discussed sensitive issues, which helped propel our country forward for its betterment. It’s my hope that we can have more courageous conversations within our community this MLK Day to make Southeastern Michigan and our country a better and more civil society for all.

Moving closer to making MLK’s dream a reality

http://blogs.detroitnews.com/politics/2013/08/20/moving-closer-to-the-reality-of-the-i-have-a-dream-speech/#comments

Aug 20, 2013, 9:30 am

By

We are quickly approaching the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic, “I have a dream” speech that represents where most Americans would like to see our nation.

At the time of his speech Dr. King was beloved by masses of people, yet hated by many. His message of racial equality was not only met with resistance from southern state governments but was unwelcome by many whites in the north – including in Michigan. We have made significant progress since then, yet we have a ways to go.

The preamble of the U.S. Constitution speaks of our nation attempting to form “a more perfect union” in recognition that America in the era of the Founding Fathers was far from perfect. In fact, many of the Founders – including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – owned slaves, advocated cleansing of natives (or “beasts of prey” as Washington referred to them) and did not respect the right for
women to vote.

The goal of many minorities continues to be an America where the societal manifestation of the beautiful words in the Declaration of Independence is realized, not how those words were understood by the document’s framers. We live in a country where women of color make 64 cents to the dollar of white men. WE also have the highest prison population on earth – largely due to the failed War on Drugs, which disproportionately incarcerates black men despite the fact that white men use and sell drugs at the same rate as their population demographics.

These and other issues are part of the legacy of racism in America that is both structural and institutional. Societal inequities are not haphazard occurrences.
In order to realize the lofty dream in Dr. King’s speech, we have to be real with each other and not live under myths. This means having honest discussions about our national history in order to see how we can facilitate righting wrongs without collectively blaming those who live in the present.

I hope that during this historic anniversary we can have candid, kind-hearted discussions to help move our country towards realizing that more perfect union. That’s what attendees of the March on Washington prayed for 50 years ago.

Commentary: King would’ve been against drone wars

http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130121/OPINION01/301210309/1008/Comment-King-would-ve-opposed-drone-wars

 
January 21, 2013 

Comment: King would’ve opposed drone wars

By Dawud Walid

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day symbolizes many important moral and ethical principles, including the citizenry’s responsibility to end the federal government’s abuses of civil and human rights, both at home and abroad.

King is most often remembered for his leadership in the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, his witnessing the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, which challenged America to achieve a higher sense of morality. Moreover, King is remembered as being imprisoned by bigoted Birmingham, Ala., police and having his life threatened by white supremacists.

What seems to be left out of contemporary MLK Day discussions is that King was a strong critic of American military actions against civilian populations and was himself the subject of intrusive surveillance by the FBI.

King was one of the first prominent public intellectuals to take a vocal stand against the war in Vietnam. In fact, he declared that America was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” much of which targeted “little brown Vietnamese children.”

King’s call for justice for all of humanity caused him to come under intense spying by the FBI and for its director, J. Edgar Hoover, to label him “the most dangerous man in America.” America has made great progress since the time of Dr. King, yet our nation remains plagued by these same moral challenges created by American violence abroad and by intrusive warrantless surveillance by federal law enforcement.

For example, America’s drone program continues to kill civilians under the banner of “collateral damage,” thus causing the rise of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.

According to a recent study by Stanford University and New York University titled “Living Under Drones,” only two percent of extra-judicial drone killings in Pakistan are of terrorists posing an imminent threat to America.

Retired General Stanley McChrystal, former top commander in Afghanistan and once a strong proponent of drone strikes, now questions the negative impact they have on long-term American interests. It becomes difficult to justify the deaths of so many civilians while claiming to be the world’s torchbearer of liberty and justice for all people.

Regarding warrantless surveillance, the FBI sent uncounted confidential informants and agent provocateurs into Islamic houses of worship, without predication of criminal activity, to make “initial threat assessments.”

The tragedy of 9/11 continues to be misused as a justification for blanket monitoring of law-abiding Americans. Along with American Muslims, the FBI in recent years even monitored the late Michael Jackson, and spied on Occupy Wall Street activists. Such warrantless surveillance not only is a waste of tax dollars and does not make the homeland any safer, but also is a violation of the very principles that are supposed to separate us from police states.

In the spirit of Dr. King, our national discussion should not only focus on racial equality, but also must include serious conversations about how the violence that America commits overseas affects the soul of the nation and how intrusive monitoring by the federal government is opposed to the aspirations of the Founding Fathers.

Based on what King preached, those who seek to follow in his footsteps should stand up for due process and question the violence carried out by our nation overseas.

Dawud Walid is executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI).

Don’t rest until King’s entire dream is realized

http://www.freep.com/article/20110116/OPINION05/101160458/1068/opinion/Dont-rest-until-Kings-entire-dream-is-realized

Don’t rest until King’s entire dream is realized

By DAWUD WALID

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. many Americans remember is a homogenized version of him that virtually ignores his stance against militarism and his struggle against the exploitation of workers.

King has come to symbolize America’s evolution toward a more racially just society. Indeed, King’s involvement in the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, and his advocacy of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were monumental milestones in our country’s struggle toward freedom, justice and equality. I am a direct beneficiary of his work, being the son of a parent who grew up in the Jim Crow South and attended segregated schools while fearing the Ku Klux Klan.

However, there seems to be a gap in our collective consciousness about King’s holistic outlook toward human rights and justice. Cornel West, a preeminent American scholar and civil rights activist, has described much of the current public discourse about the late civil rights leader as the “Santa Claus-ification” of King.

King was not a popular man during his era. He was loathed not only by bigots, but in many circles of the federal government and corporate America. Even before then-U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy authorized the FBI to wiretap King, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover monitored King and spread misinformation that the Baptist pastor was a godless “communist.” In fact, Hoover went so far in government documents as to dub King as “the most dangerous man in America.”

King was seen as a threat not because he thought blacks should be able to dine next to whites or attend the same schools, but because he challenged growing American militarism in Vietnam and its negative effects on poor people, both in loss of life and in the diversion of funds that might otherwise have been used to support social programs.

The nonviolent King even proclaimed, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly against the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

King’s tenacious criticism of the conflict in Vietnam, the war’s disproportionate impact on poor people, and the growing disparity between the living standards of corporate executives and blue-collar workers has relevance in today’s sociopolitical discourse.

If King were alive today, I am confident he would criticize the cutting of social programs and the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq after an invasion prompted by fallacious reasons. If Dr. King were here with us, I am confident he would be angered to learn that the Department of Defense and the FBI are once again intrusively monitoring Americans under the guise of fighting terrorism, much as they once monitored him. And I know he would be at the front lines with those calling for just immigration reform.

King should not be seen as a mythical figure like Santa Claus, who makes us feel warm and fuzzy. We have come a long way as a nation, but King’s full dream has yet to come true.

Let us work toward fulfilling the entirety of that dream, not just by having superficial discussions about how we are growing into a “post-racial society,” but by also working to secure all the human rights, including the right to obtain economic dignity, that King strove for.

Dawud Walid is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan Chapter.