MLK's struggle against white moderates


Hypocrisy can be a tough nut to crack:

After the Watts uprising, Dr. King focused on the racial dishonesty of the North which “showered praise on the heroism of Southern Negroes.” But concerning local conditions, “only the language was polite; the rejection was firm and unequivocal.” The uneven attention was clear, he noted: “As the nation, Negro and white, trembled with outrage at police brutality in the South, police misconduct in the North was rationalized, tolerated and usually denied.”

Dr. King also highlighted white people’s illegal behavior that helped produced Northern ghettos: The white man “flagrantly violates building codes and regulations, his police make a mockery of law, and he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services,” he said in an address to the American Psychological Association in 1967.

I hesitated to write about this today, because it's eerily similar to what many Southern apologists have clung to in the past: That Northern racism was/is just as bad (if not worse) than here. But I see many parallels of 1960's New York/New Jersey in North Carolina's suburban and exurban communities today, so taking a closer look won't hurt anything but our feelings:

“There is a pressing need for a liberalism in the North which is truly liberal,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told an interracial audience in New York City in 1960. He called for a liberalism that “rises up with righteous indignation when a Negro is lynched in Mississippi, but will be equally incensed when a Negro is denied the right to live in his neighborhood.”

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s tempting to focus on the glaring human rights abuses, racist fear-mongering and malfeasance happening at the federal level. But taking seriously Dr. King’s critique of Northern liberalism means also calling out liberal public officials and residents who profess commitments to equality yet maintain a corrupt criminal justice system and a segregated school system. It means calling out Northern newspapers, along with Southern ones, to atone for their skewed civil rights coverage. And it means reckoning with the dangers of “polite” racism, as Dr. King warned, which still rings true today.

Bolding mine, because I have seen firsthand how normally Liberal and even Progressive folks easily and rapidly descend into NIMBYism when their particular neighborhood is affected. Affordable housing? That's a great idea, but not here. How about over there? Busing to make schools more integrated? You're burning more fuel, and making climate change worse! Public transportation? I would support that if your plan was better.

Not trying to imply that all opposition from the public to development and change come from a NIMBY perspective, but educated Liberals can be masters at shaping a narrative. And convincing themselves they are doing so in the interests of all concerned, and not just themselves. We have to reach deeper than that. We have to be prepared to set aside our own personal fears and foibles, if we want to bring progress forward.