Saturday, May 25, 2024

Have African Americans Lived the American Dream?

April 5, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( April 4 2008 will mark the 40th anniversary of the murder of the Afrikan-American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King jnr.

At this significant milestone in the history of the United States and Afrikan-Americans in particular given the current climate, it is appropriate to ask whether after 40 years since the murder of the civil rights leader the quality of life for Afrikan-Americans has improved or gotten worse.

Master Teacher Hamet M Maulana and I will be dissecting this issue this coming Sunday 6th April at the Dubois Centre, Cantonments from 4pm.

Let us then examine this question closely using a critical analysis that use the past, present and future to arrive at a balanced conclusion.

Many Ghanaians are not aware of the FACT that the original people of the Americas were Afrikan/Black people and NOT red Indians/Native Americans. These Afrikans were responsible for building some of the great civilizations and culture of the Americas including the Olmec, Mayan and Inca civilizations.

However, the overwhelming majority of the current generation of Afrikan-Americans are the descendants of Ghanaians (Akan, Ga, Dagbani, Ewe) who were stolen and taken to the Americas in what is often referred to as the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Without going into the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, suffice to say that our ancestors were brutally tortured and stripped of their humanity during over 400 years of free labour that built America to the great power we see today.

However it was not until after the end of the American war of independence in which many of our ancestors fought and died for that the emancipation for Afrikan-Americans was delivered.

The likes of Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman all contributed greatly to the abolition of the transatlantic slave Trade by the United States in 1865 by President Abraham Lincoln who it is said had Afrikan blood in him.

Under enslavement, it was made illegal for Afrikan-Americans to read or write. However, despite this many great Afrikan-Americans such as Granville T Woods, Elijah McCoy, George Carver Washington, Garret Morgan, Louis Latimer and Benjamin Banneker rose above this illegal nonsense and became pioneers in science and technology.

Between 1865 and 1964 Afrikan-Americans lived under severe apartheid like conditions often referred to as Jim Crow laws where Afrikan-Americans were treated and viewed worse than animals.

The whole American society was separated on the basis of skin color with separate schools, restaurants, hospitals, churches, play-grounds etc for Whites and Blacks alike. Even cemeteries were separated where Afrikan-Americans were not allowed to be buried in the same cemetery as White people.

Also during this period many Afrikan-American men were chased by gangs of White men simply because they were Black and when they were caught they were tied to a tree with a noose on their necks and killed.

This became known as lynching and between 1865 and 1964 thousands of Afrikan-American men were brutally lynched.

However, despite this brutal period, Afrikan-Americans were determined to improve their quality of life and they cultivated a climate where there were able to develop sustainable communities and had their own churches, schools, universities and businesses.

It was as a direct result of some of the severe violations of human rights that Afrikan-Americans suffered under these Jim Crow laws that Afrikan-Americans like Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jnr and Benn Ammi amongst others began to stand up to this inhumane treatment by empowering Afrikan-Americans with the belief that they were capable of doing for self.

Martin Luther King Jnr was one of those who took up the mantle and became a proponent for change in American society.

Following the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her bus seat for a White man, Dr. King led a series of bus boycotts that resulted in Afrikan-Americans being able to use the same buses as White people.

King also led a series of protests and peaceful non-violent demonstrations across America particularly in the Deep South to bring home to the majority of Americans the appalling injustices that Afrikan-Americans were being subjected to.

Perhaps Martin Luther King Jr’s greatest feat was to inspire more than 250,000 Americans of all creeds, colors and religious beliefs to assemble at the Washington monument where he delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech in 1963 in which he outlined his vision for an America based on equality, justice and racial tolerance.

It is the tenets of this speech with which to judge the present quality of life for Afrikan-Americans.

It would be inconceivable not to believe that tremendous progress had been made that has impacted greatly on the quality of life for some Afrikan-Americans.

For example when the civil rights bill was passed in 1964 by the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration, it gave the opportunity for thousands of Afrikan-Americans via the Affirmative Action programme the chance to compete on an equitable basis in all areas of American society where they had previously been denied access.

As a result of this Affirmative Action policy, which was resented by many White people, many Afrikan-Americans have been able to climb on merit to the higher echelons of American society.

Lawyers, state governors, senior high ranking politicians, corporate directors, to film stars, major sports personalities and so forth has seen some Afrikan-Americans get their share of the American dream.

However, those success stories hide the real state of affairs for the vast majority of the 40 million Afrikan-Americans and this is why 40 years after the murder of Martin Luther King Jnr that the quality of life for Afrikan-Americans has in fact got worse. The following statistics bear witness to this.

    · About 20% of young Afrikan-American men between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor working – compared with only 9% of young White men. Despite the “economic boom” of the nineties, this percentage has not fallen substantially over the last ten years.

    · There are more young Afrikan-American men in jail than in University.

    · Afrikan-American men are 4 times likely than white men to be stopped and searched by the police without being charged.

    · In 1993, white households had invested nearly three times as much in stocks and mutual funds as Afrikan-American households. Since then the stock market has more than doubled its value.

    · Afrikan-American heart attack patients are far less likely than whites to undergo cardiac catheterization, a common and potentially lifesaving procedure, regardless of the race of their doctors. Black and White doctors together referred white patients for catheterization about 40% more often than Afrikan-American patients.

    · Afrikan-American men are more likely to suffer from prostate cancer then white men.

    · Afrikan-American women are four times more likely than white women to die while giving birth.

    · Black levels of unemployment have been roughly twice those of whites since 1954.

    · The average income for Afrikan-Americans is 61% less per year than the average white income. That is the same difference as it was in 1880!

Therefore what the above shows is that little has changed for Afrikan-Americans since the days of slavery.

To further compound this we all saw the terrible images of Afrikan-Americans during the Hurricane Katrina episode which exposed the dire poverty of Afrikan-Americans living in the Deep South who were affected the most by this powerful hurricane which destroyed many Afrikan-American communities from which they have never recovered.

Add to this the sub-prime mortgage crisis which has affected mainly poor Afrikan-Americans and to the daily racial intolerance suffered by vast swathes of Afrikan-Americans including a robust denial of its enslavement past.

So 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King and 45 years after his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech notwithstanding some outstanding achievements in fields as diverse as politics, sport, medicine, technology, invention and music, it would be fair, balanced and right to conclude that the vast majority of Afrikan-Americans have not seen the American dream but more importantly not seen the ideals of Martin Luther King’s speech that advocated total equality irrespective of one’s color.

Written By Dr. Kwame Osei

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