Blacks shun dream of harmony

Martin Luther King's vision of an end to the US's great racial divide has faded, writes John Carlin in Washington

A court in Washington heard last week that Mary Anigbo, a black school principal, punched and screamed racial abuse at a white woman reporter who had ventured into her school in the hope of persuading her to do an interview. Three members of Ms Anigbo's staff, all of them also black, allegedly joined in the fray and hurled the reporter out of the building. All four are facing charges of assault.

The reporter, who works for the conservative Washington Times, testified that Ms Anigbo snatched away her notebook and called her a white bitch. "The principal told me to get my white ass out of the school," she told the court.

The accused deny the charges. But, whatever the verdict may turn out to be, the case has served to dramatise the racial mood in the United States at a time when a growing number of black people are re-examining their commitment to the generous, colour-blind ideals of Martin Luther King.

In his "I have a dream" speech of 1963, King called on Americans "to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation", and "transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood". Translated into plain prose, he was declaring racial integration to be the civil-rights movement's paramount political, social and even religious goal.

But now there are those in the black community who are beginning to wonder whether it was Malcolm X, King's militant Muslim rival, who got it right when he declared: "No sane black man really believes that the white man ever will give the black man anything more than token integration!"

Malcolm X argued that the solution for the black man lay in "separation", in exchanging the corruption of white American society for "a land of our own, where we can reform ourselves, lift up our moral standards and try to be godly".

Nothing could be farther removed from the thinking of the US's largest and most venerable black political organisation, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). Traditionally abhorring radical black leaders who harbour visions of a home-grown American apartheid, the NAACP has seen the principle of inter-racial harmony as its raison d'etre ever since its foundation in 1908. But doubts are now emerging from within.

The annual conference of the NAACP, held this month, was dominated by the struggle of the national leadership to fend off a fundamental philosophical challenge by state leaders and members of the rank and file. The dissenters went so far as to question the abiding value of the single greatest victory in the history of the American civil-rights movement, the Supreme Court ruling of 1954 which declared racial segregation in schools to be unlawful.

"The genie is out of the bottle," said Joe Hicks, a former executive director of Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "There is a growing sentiment in black communities that racial integration may not be a worthy or desirable goal."

Ted Shaw, an NAACP office-holder, captured that sentiment when he told Time magazine: "You're beating your head up against the wall until it is bloody. At some point you have to ask: Should I continue to beat up against this wall?"

Black despondency has grown in the past two years as political pressure has built in Washington and at state government level to eliminate affirmative- action programmes and cut welfare for the inner-city poor. Yet an argument might be also made - as it frequently is, by the right-wing black minority - that, in the light of the undeniable political and economic progress that black Americans have made in the past 30 years, the best course of action would be stop bleating and start living.

In addition to the spectacular successes that blacks have achieved in sport and entertainment, the number of black lawyers and engineers and mayors of large cities (often cities with white majorities) has increased dramatically, as has the average income of black families.

Black people are not as well off as white people but the hope that historical inequalities might be redressed with time is provided by research showing that black immigrants from the West Indies are outdoing both black and white Americans in economic achievement.

But to dwell on the statistical evidence is, apparently, to miss a point. Surveys show that the most anti-white sector of black society is the most affluent. Such findings are supported by examination of the readership of a glossy, black-run monthly magazine called Emerge whose huge commercial success is built on consistently expressing derogatory views about white people that no mainstream white-run magazine could possibly express about blacks without incurring a chorus of national outrage. The magazine's buyers earn on average $20,000 more than the US's median household income and almost nine in 10 have university degrees.

"It doesn't matter how much money you have, you will always be discriminated against," explained George Curry, the editor of Emerge, in a recent interview. "So while you may look at the indicators - the affluence, the housing, the income and education - there's still this burden of being black, and that is what white Americans don't understand."

President Clinton, who recently appointed an advisory board to initiate a "national dialogue" on race, clings to the notion that the chasm of understanding may yet be bridged. President Eisenhower gave as his reason for not supporting the civil-rights movement 40 years ago his belief that government action would never be able to change the human heart.

History may yet vindicate Mr Clinton and Martin Luther King. But as things stand now, the true prophets seem to be Dwight D Eisenhower and Malcolm X.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser