Martin Luther King Jr and the State of the Dream 2013
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Beyond Vietnam Speech
In his speech, Beyond Vietnam, Dr. King identified three aspects of American society that he named the Evil Triplets…………Racism, Militarism and Consumerism.
King identified these three themes as the major forms of institutionalized violence and oppression of his generation. Such an analysis by Dr. King reflected a maturation from the person who participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and gave the “I Have a Dream Speech” in 1963.
For King, racial equality was no longer just about the right to vote, to use the same bathroom as Whites or to sit at the same lunch counter. King had moved beyond desegregation to racial justice, but he also understood that racial justice was not possible without economic justice. As King would say, “What good is it for us to sit at the lunch counter, if I can’t afford to buy the hamburger.”
In his Beyond Vietnam speech, King then sees the connection of racial and economic justice as tied to the demand for peace and an end to militarism. King called out the US government’s military spending in Vietnam and made it clear that this was a gross injustice, especially when so many communities of color were living in abject poverty.
The Evil Triplets in 2013
If we are serious about honoring the message and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then we cannot be content with just seeing more Black and Brown faces in positions of power. King made it clear at the end of his life that we have to change the systems of oppression.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice, which produces beggars, needs restructuring.
If MLK were alive today, what might he say about the condition of this country, particularly as it related to the Evil Triplets?
Over the last decade, the organization United for a Fair Economy has been publishing an annual report called the State of the Dream. The title for the 2013 edition of the State of the Dream is, A Long Way Home: Housing, Asset Policy and the Racial Wealth Divide.
The report is highly critical of where we are as a nation today, particularly along the divide of race and class. Here is a summary of findings from the report:
- The average, or mean, net worth of White families is more than six times higher than the average net worth of Black families, and 5.7 times greater than the average net worth of Latino families.
- Black and Latino families faced a shocking loss of wealth during the Great Recession. Between 2007 and 2010, the average net wealth of White families decreased by 6.7 percent. By comparison, Black families lost 27.1% of their average net wealth and Latino families lost 41.3 percent.
- Black and Latino families came out of the Great Recession much more highly leveraged (holding more debt relative to their net assets) than White families. White families on average have a debt burden equal to just 17% of their net worth, while Black and Latino families owe 53% and 58%, respectively.
Such economic disparities are a reflection of the institutionalized racism that exits in America. These economic indicators, however, are not just because of institutionalized racism, but also include the other two evil triplets – consumerism and militarism.
When King used the term consumerism in his Beyond Vietnam speech, he was really calling out our economic system, which he condemned as giving more worth to things than people. In other speeches, King mad it clear that he had a strong contempt for Capitalism.
We are now making demands that will cost the nation something. You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with the captains of industry….Now this means that we are treading in difficult waters, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong…with capitalism…there must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism.
In addition to the economic system, King named militarism as the other evil triplet. Again, in his Beyond Vietnam speech, “I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.”
The funding that could alleviate poverty is spent on war and militarism by the US even more so today. The cost of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are roughly $1.5 Trillion, according to the National Priorities Project. Add to that the cost of recent wars in Libya, Yemen, Syria, the campaign against Iran, the thousands of US military bases abroad and the military weaponry this country provides around the world. All of this is an astounding amount of wealth that is taken from the poor and the oppressed.
The cost of the Evil Triplets is overwhelming.
If we applied King’s analysis to Kent County alone, it would be clear that institutionalized racism and economic oppression are apparent in this community as well.
The rates of poverty are higher in Black and Latino communities, income rates are lower, unemployment and underemployment are higher, funding for education is less and the number of Blacks and Latinos in the Prison Industrial Complex in Kent County is a higher percentage than the populations for both of those groups in this county.
My question to you is, if the speakers at the varying MLK events don’t address these aspects of King’s message (and they likely won’t), will you?
“A time has come when silence is betrayal.” Dr. King