Musings on the March on Washington’s 50th Anniversary

Wednesday, 28 August 2013, marked the 50th anniversary of the iconic and history-making March on Washington, D.C. on 28 August 1963. It was the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his legendary ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Today, a statue dedicated to him stands near the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. If one cannot see the historical significance of that, as well as the irony, then that individual is severely myopic and suffers from a closed mind. I would say that about the people who downplay the significance of Barack Obama being POTUS, as well. If you consider the fact that it was virtually impossible for a Black person in this country to attain that position a mere 50 years ago, much less consider applying and/or running for it, then that is quite an accomplishment. But it doesn’t mean that racism isn’t a problem; it doesn’t mean that racism has miraculously been erased and eradicated, or that it isn’t still one of the most glaring social ills facing humanity.

I watch the footage from those bygone days, seeing how people from all backgrounds pulled together to face hate-based adversity and injustice, and wonder: “What the hell happened? When did people stop caring about what happens to their fellow man?” I see the racist prejudice and vitriol dripping from opinion pieces in papers and on blogs, and hear it in the incendiary words spewed by separatists on TV, the radio, and on YouTube or via internet ‘podcasts.’

I don’t believe that there is a ‘Black community’ – too many people of all shades and stripes keep echoing that falsehood, which is a separatist contrivance akin to Ebonics and the ‘one-drop rule.’ At one time, when the Underground Railroad was widely used (and necessary), there may have been a ‘Black community’ of sorts: but it dissolved when we scattered to the four winds after the Emancipation Proclamation was declared – but it was never really enacted. The insults of segregationist, Jim Crow laws, political gerrymandering, and legal lynchings seemed to drive us further apart. Other factors to include would be the destruction of entire towns with a Black populace, the hunting down of ‘freemen’ and ‘freewomen’ and returning them to slavery in the south, and the rape and murder of Black women and girls. The state we are in, here in the 21st Century, is better than it was 50 years ago – but only slightly. We seem to have made great inroads in the quest to be seen as people; to be judged ‘not by the colour of our skin, but by the content of our character’ – but when you step back and look at the bigger picture, we can see that mere baby steps have been accomplished and there is still a long way to go and much tougher ‘rows to hoe.’

For instance, it’s supposedly illegal to discriminate against others when choosing amongst job applicants: their skin colour, personal beliefs, country of origin, etc. One should only be judged on their ability to learn a specific job and to do the job well, not some fucked-up stereotype festering in the mind of the interviewer/employer. My personal experience has taught me otherwise! I have overheard people justify their so-called reasoning for only hiring whites for any given position at various corporate offices, and the reason was this: Non-whites, apparently, are “HR nightmares that nobody wants to deal with” so that is a perfect justification for not hiring us in the first place. I suspect that same ‘reasoning’ is behind the fact that we are “last hired, first fired” at those same offices. Imagine how well that ‘reasoning’ would be received if it were used to deny employment to a white, blonde woman, even if it were ‘justified’ – I can think of many reasons not to hire that sort, personally!

50 years ago: we had to drink from separate water fountains. The only jobs we could get were menial service positions, barely better than what was forced upon us as unpaid slaves – and that practice continues today. Certain areas of trains, restaurants, hotels, and movie houses were designated ‘for coloured only’ – and that was only if those places deigned to render service to us at all. In some parts of the country, toilets for ‘coloured’ people were poison-ivy infested paths which ended in a precarious drop if you missed the flimsy plank with rusted nails around the ‘sitting hole.’ Speaking of the term ‘coloured’ – isn’t it funny that the very people who forced that term on us, now say that we have no right to use it? I saw something like that on a blog not long ago – some white person was saying that the term ‘POC’ was “stupid and unnecessary.” I wonder what they thought of its usage during segregation? They never mentioned how the term came into being in the first place, but I guess it was just a convenient oversight on their part. Same goes with the term ‘Black community’ – imagine how silly people would sound if they started saying things like ‘the female community’ or ‘the Asian community’ or ‘the European community’ – for that matter, I challenge other bloggers to start doing that! Start talking about “the ills of (such-and-such) community” and see how dialogue changes! Do it IRL as well as online, since gauging people’s reactions up close and personal is what really counts.

50 years ago…I wasn’t alive during that turbulent time. My mother was weeks away from her ninth birthday, so I’m certain that she would have seen news reports on television. Sadly, strokes have robbed her of her memories. She might remember bits and pieces of events if I ask her, but it would take some time for her to recall anything – and it would take hours (or even days) for her to grasp at those fleeting recollections. The man who fathered me would probably remember a great deal more, if he wanted to take the time to talk to me and answer my questions…he was an adult and owned his own business at the time, so he certainly would have a vested interest in those long-ago events. I wonder if he attended…I should ask him – his answer would definitely be included in my book. Part of the issue with finishing my book is trying to find a good stopping point!

I digress…events leading up to, and following, the March are in history books – but not as many as are warranted. I wasn’t taught about the March in any school history classes; I had to learn about it by going to the local library, and only after the age of 12 did I start reading anything of pertinence, because the library didn’t allow children under the age of 12 into the upstairs, ‘adult’ section. Some books in the school library were more helpful and informative than my so-called ‘history teachers’ ever dreamed of being, so I looked to those books to find the answers. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is always talked about, as is that of John F. Kennedy – but the reasons for the Civil War are obfuscated, slavery is glossed over, and the Civil Rights Movement is rendered nonexistent in most public (and private) schools. Educating oneself about all events in this country’s history should begin as early as possible, and it is an education that should last for the rest of one’s life. Events of 50 years ago are important and significant. The fight that began before those events is still being fought today, but the rules have changed. Claiming the small victories and saying that the war is won was premature. Fighting to use certain words isn’t what the March on Washington was about – people reducing it to that is sad and shameful, indeed.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. sepultura13
    Sep 01, 2013 @ 09:47:51

    I didn’t see your comments, so who you piss off on the interwebs with your opinions isn’t in my ballpark. I’m sure that they were fascinating. 🙄

    Tarred and feathered for ‘sacrilege’ – really? Wow…

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