Tuli Can't Stop Talking

These are just my thoughts on contemporary issues and an attempt to open up a dialogue.

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Location: New York City

A citizen who cares deeply about the United States Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Pitts on MLK.

Leonard Pitts always sets us straight. Here he is on Martin and Poverty.

Posted on Fri, Jan. 13, 2006


Dr. King got it: Poverty isn't all black - or white


The barber leaned close so the white folks couldn't hear.

How are you adjusting to the culture shock, he asked. Takes some getting used to, I replied.

We were two black men in a place -- the Appalachian foothills where Ohio abuts West Virginia -- that is home to very few people like us.

But the culture shock he spoke of wasn't about race so much as economics. It's a strange thing, he said, still leaning close, to see white people, poor.

It is strange, indeed.

Not that I didn't know there are white poor. To the contrary, I knew that while poverty on a percentage basis is far greater among blacks than whites, there are, in terms of raw numbers, more poor whites than poor anybody. And this region, where I will be teaching journalism until June, is among the poorest and whitest in the country.


Still, it's one thing to read statistics and quite another to see with your eyes. But my sojourn here makes seeing inevitable. And I find myself fascinated by how markers of poverty can be simultaneously so familiar and yet so unknown: the unmarried teenage dropout soon to be a mother, the service worker missing teeth, the uneducated woman dying of emphysema, sneaking a smoke in her hospital bed, the rough man who lives between scrapes with the law, the young guy buying a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor before noon. All white.

We are so comfortable thinking of people like them as archetypes of black dysfunction. It's jarring to be reminded that they are, in fact, archetypes of dysfunction, period, and that dysfunction, no matter its color, should trouble us all.

Martin Luther King understood this. Which is one of the things we understand least about him.

Monday will be the 20th King Day. It will bring the 20th round of interfaith prayer breakfasts, recitations of I Have a Dream, assessments of progress toward racial equity and the lack thereof. I suspect there won't be much discussion of white poverty.

This is not a surprise. We like our heroes and their heroism simple, unencumbered by that which doesn't fit neatly into a box. We like our commemorations simpler still, a self-congratulatory excuse for a three-day weekend or a used car sale.


But the man who said, ''I have a dream,'' also said, ''All life is interrelated,'' and came to believe his mission as a moral leader encompassed more than race. Encompassed, among other things, class.

It is instructive to remember that in his last days, King was planning what he called the Poor People's Campaign, a multiethnic march on Washington to demand action against poverty. At Canaan's Edge, the final chapter of Taylor Branch's epic retelling of the civil rights years, recounts a summit meeting a few weeks before King's assassination. Chicano farmworkers, Native Americans from the Plains and white coal miners from Appalachia sat with King to explore the revolutionary idea that their peoples might have causes and grievances in common.

Then King went to Memphis. And the idea has not been meaningfully explored since.

Neglect has made it no less tantalizing.

Yes, race matters. Most of us know this. But the genius of Martin Luther King in his final days was to understand that there are paradigms beyond race and that they matter, too.

So on Monday, as we are exhorted to seek paths of racial amity, one hopes we will also be exhorted to understand, as King did, that conscience has no color, that race is not destiny, that injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.

There are among us children who sleep in hunger, rise in cold, live in ignorance and they are of every color and every tribe. We ought not find their suffering easier to accept because they are not like us. Ought to realize that the dignity of all is the concern of all.

That, too, was Martin's dream.

Thank you Mr. Pitts for reminding us.

Martin we miss you and your dream.


Blogger BobsAdvice said...

Hard not to think of that line from the song, "Has anyone seen my good friend Martin?"

When great leaders fall from the scene, it is up to the rest of us to lift up that torch of freedom and illuminate the world a little brighter. We need to continue the struggle against injustice and poverty and sickness. Here and in the rest of the world.

Thanks for the post.


1:31 PM  

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