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.