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Home arrow E-Library arrow Full Text Articles and Essays arrow What Needs To Be Said on MLK Day, Seattle Times, 2011
What Needs To Be Said on MLK Day, Seattle Times, 2011 PDF Print E-mail

by Jerry Large, Seattle Times Staff Columnist

What are you going to chat about while you're schmoozing at one of those MLK celebrations over the next week?

Drawing a blank? I figured some of you might need a conversation starter, so I assembled some fodder for you.

People will be talking about how far we've come since Martin Luther King Jr. was preaching and marching, and how far we still have to go.

The year before King died, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws against interracial marriage. Today more and more black folks are marrying people of other races.

The potential couples meet at work or school because neighborhoods often are still segregated.

A study that came out last spring found that 22 percent of black men married someone of another race in 2008.

That's up from 7.9 percent in 1980.

About 9 percent of black women married across racial lines. The math makes marriage harder to achieve for black women.

Black/white marriages are still the least common pairing. Half of American-born Asian Americans marry someone of another race, mostly white.

In a New York Times story on the report, political scientist Andrew Hacker of Queens College said, "Children of white-Asian and white-Hispanic parents will have no problems calling themselves white, if that's their choice."

And he said what most of us know. Children with one black parent won't have that option. Well, they could say it, but trust me, no one is going to treat them like white people. Ask President Obama.

America is still allergic to dark colors.

An Ohio State study published last June found that darker-skinned Latino immigrants are not as well accepted as their lighter counterparts. Lighter skin means a higher income.

That's true for black people as well. And it's not just income. A 2006 Stanford study found dark-skinned black people convicted of murder were twice as likely to receive the death penalty as lighter-skinned brothers.

Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, has a new book out, "Disintegration," in which he argues there is no longer a black community.

He sees four groups instead: the transcendent elite, the mainstream middle class, mixed-race families, and the abandoned poor.

I've only read reviews, but I'm sure his exploration of an idea that's been around for a while will be worth reading.

Martin Luther King Jr. grew up in a neighborhood with poor black folks because there was no option, but civil-rights gains allowed black people with education and means to move out. It was a win and a loss. Everything about race is complicated, and most Americans get little help understanding any of it.

When rioting broke out in American cities in the late 1960s, President Johnson created the Kerner Commission to figure out why it happened and what could prevent future violence.

The commission found us to be a separate and unequal society, and it lay blame on every institution. The news media were singled out for failure "to analyze and report adequately on racial problems in the United States."

Last year, the Pew Research Center analyzed "more than 67,000 national news stories [not football games or movie reviews] that appeared between Feb. 16, 2009, and Feb. 15, 2010, in different mainstream media outlets."

Just 1.9 percent of the total news hole or broadcast time "related in a significant way to African Americans in the U.S." To be considered a "significant" part of a given story, 25 percent of the content of that story had to be about a demographic group and its race/ethnicity. Most of those stories were reactions to specific incidents rather than explorations of issues. The biggest chunk of media attention went to one story, the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. President Obama was the most mentioned black individual, but of course not all of those stories were primarily about him as a black person.

Latinos didn't fare well either, and you'd have to look especially hard to find stories about Asian Americans or Native Americans.

Journalists are just as uncomfortable dealing with race as most other Americans and generally not well-grounded in the subject.

If journalists and educators (must we argue about Huck Finn every year?) did a better job, you'd have more to talk about, and more confidence doing it.

And all that conversation might lead to change that would allow us to move on to some other topic.

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