Everything Has Changed, but Nothin' Has Changed: Shame, Racism, and a Dream Deferred

Article excerpt

EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED, OR HAS IT?

Mention the 1963 March on Washington and what comes to everyone's mind is Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. Few realize that the official title of that march was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In spite of the almost 50 years that have passed since the march and Dr. King's eloquent speech, Black Americans still bear a disproportionate burden of joblessness. College educated black men are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts, and the jobless rate for blacks is 3 times higher than the one for whites in 5 Midwestern states (Herbert, 2010). The income gap between blacks and whites has narrowed by just three cents on the dollar since 1968, the year of Martin Luther King's death, while in 2005 the median per capita income in the United States stood at $16,629 for blacks and $28,946 for whites. (Muhammad, 2008). African-Americans are seven times as likely to be incarcerated as whites, and black men go to prison at twice the rate they go to college. Nationally, for every black man who graduates from college, 100 are arrested ( Leary, 2005). Indeed, Parkinson tells the story of America's movement from, what he calls the age of slavery, to the age of incarceration, in his book Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (Berner 2010).

Leon P. Litwack, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, ended his How Free is Free? The Long Death of Jim Crow as follows:

It is all very different, it is all very much the same. In the early twenty-first century, it is a different America, and it is a familiar America. When asked in 1985 to assess the legacy of the civil rights era, a black activist responded: "Everything has changed, but nothin' has changed. In the 1960s Bull Connor threw us in jail, sicked dogs on us, turned the water hose on us. Today Birmingham has a black mayor. Last year he picked me up at the airport and gave me a key to the city. But in the shadow of City Hall I saw black people still living in slums. Downtown I met blacks of the expanding middle class. In the shadows of Downtown I observed a growing underclass. Everything has changed, but nothin' has changed." (Litwack, 2009, p. 143)

As Bob Herbert also stated in his 1/19/10 column,

Dr. King told Look magazine in 1968: "We called our demonstration a campaign for jobs and income because we felt that the economic question was the most crucial that black people, and poor people generally, were confronting."

That was then. The loudest voices against poverty and economic injustice of all kinds have long since faded.... Millions upon millions of families are suffering, but mostly in silence (Herbert. 2010).

There is much controversy and confusion about the degree of prejudice and discrimination that persists in our society. Seventy-five per cent of African Americans believe they have fewer opportunities than whites, while almost sixty per cent of whites think blacks have the same opportunities that they have (Altman, 2006).

Not only do many whites believe that blacks have the same opportunities as whites, they also believe that if "the failures of blacks persist [ed], the fault had to lie with the victim, not in deeply rooted economic and social inequality, not in their exclusion from the economic life of the country" (Litwack, 2009 ? 121). In fact some whites believe that blacks have been given unfair advantages, and they are oblivious to any privilege that being born white has given them (Leary, 2005).

Many have questioned the persistence of racism given Barack Obama's election as President of the United States. Though extraordinary, some say it is unlikely that this event signals the end of prejudice because of unconscious, automatic, implicit influences upon social behavior (Gump, 2009, p. 44). Research shows that people who score low on self-reported measures of racism may still score high on implicit measures of racial bias and that liberal whites who believe that they are not prejudiced may discriminate in subtle ways and may not be aware of doing so (Miller and Josephs, 2009). …