Monday, January 7, 2008

Educating Ourselves on Racism and Martin Luther King

I did a show on the CBS radio network today in which we discussed the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. I haven't been doing many interviews lately, but I took the interview as a favor to my buddy Chad, a producer for the Lars Larson Show. Lars is a crazy conservative guy out west who loves to try to push my buttons. I push his right back, and there is a friendly exchange. But given that he is down with Bill O'Reilly, I guess you can't assume that the friend of your enemy is your enemy. I respect Lars but can't stand O'Reilly. Bill O'Reilly is a loser and a terrible human being, which is why I am glad that Obama and others also agreed to never appear on his show again. My conversations with him have never been productive, and when he physically attacked Obama's aide this week, it reminded me of how negative he was toward me during my appearances on his show. I DO NOT respect that man, and I do not respect Sean Hannity.

On CBS today, we talked about the legacy of Martin Luther King, and what it means for all of us. I went through the somewhat challenging exercise of explaining exactly how racism works and why people don't always seem to get it. People think that racism is about someone calling you a "n*gger" in the hallway or hanging a noose on your door. It is not. The biggest racial disease is INSTITUTIONALIZED RACISM. Institutionalized racism is what you get when you have universities, board rooms, coaching positions and other entities that have never allowed an African-American to walk through the door or get the job. I think about my own university, which has dozens of academic departments that have NEVER tenured an African-American in over 100 years of operating history. Rather than working to fix the problem or at least acknowledge it, people would rather attack those who choose to point it out.

Imagine an oil spill. Let's say that a company spends 400 days dumping thousands of barrels of oil into a lake. The poison from the oil kills every single animal in the lake and makes the lake unfit for swimming, fishing or anything else. Then, after the company is confronted with what they've done, they simply stop doing it.

When asked what they are going to do to rectify the problem, the company simply says "We stopped dumping the oil, what in the hell else do you want?" They may even claim that another management team was in place when the dumping occurred and although they profited directly from the dumping, they are not liable for cleaning up the mess. I mean, after all, it's not like they're doing it anymore.

That is how America deals with racism.

The social poison of racism has been dumped into the lake of humanity of our country and into our institutions for 400 years. We fought like hell to stop the dumping, but the poison remains. It is not going to naturally clear itself up, the same way that the oil left behind by the corporation isn't going to go away on its own. A proactive, prolonged and committed effort must be made to clean the lake if it is ever going to be healthy again.

That, in a nutshell, is how I explained Dr. King's legacy to the show hosts. The conversation was respectful, but I made it clear that America and its ancestors left a 400 year legacy of toxic socioeconomic inequality that (many of) their grandchildren have taken little or no personal responsibility for helping to clean up. So, respecting Dr. King's legacy means dealing with all legacies of this country, and not just the ones that make us feel good.

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