“I want to walk out right now; you can write that down as a quote, if you want,” the perplexed senior Zeta whispered as the Reverend Mr. Robert Williams proclaimed that now, almost two decades after the Martin Luther King holiday was conceived, “sophisticated segregation” was inflicted on the African-American population.
There were more than a few in the Hayworth Chapel audience who shared Caroline Rinehart’s sentiments about the assembly; university president Nido Quebin said, “I am glad we only have standing room available,” which was true, including the notable concentration of black citizens in the front of the building and whites in the back and balcony. This separation became more evident as the event unfolded.
Reverend Williams began his speech with a story from the Bible about Peter coming to Antioch and how the people there misconstrued the ideas of Christianity; the argument was that Christ had come to earth to save mankind, not so they could continue to squabble over who could be “more saved” or “better saved.” The story could not have described the situation better. The reverend asked, “Have relations improved since we have begin celebrating this holiday?” and “What changes must be made…so we can live together in peace?”
It was at this point that Caroline began rolling her eyes; while not a fan of gospel choirs, she had sat through the entire ceremony giggling only occasionally at what could be considered either obnoxious or devout outbursts from the crowd, specifically from black members. The ceremony continued as the crowd slowly began to see that the segregation was indeed real, but was different than even the reverend perceived it. While housing problems, employment, and literacy matters to the average college student, “He spoke to an obvious audience,” Caroline said, implying that audience was not the students that had invited him.
The complaints made by Williams were difficult to disagree with; one will have a hard time finding a college student that thinks people should live in sub-standard conditions, not be able to read or write. Even the reverend’s statements about how black athletes massively outnumber black staff was a true statement, though ill-received by over half his audience. It was not the points that were made but rather the points that were not made. Caroline said, “I felt like he was blaming white people for black problems when he should have been blaming society for society’s problems.” Reverend Williams indeed offered no solutions to his plethora of aggravations, instead calling on other people, groups, and organizations to help; instead of crying out to the crowd to go out and do something about it, he called on all of them to get really upset about it, a tactic that is great to get money in a collection plate but ineffective when it comes to improving a situation.
The speech was concluded with the classic song, “We Shall Overcome,” which was ironic since it is difficult to overcome problems without solutions; despite past victories, modern civil rightists can only concentrate on what is wrong, not what is right or what has been improved. Afterward Caroline mentioned starvation isn’t a black problem; illiteracy isn’t a black problem; ghetto living is not just oppressing black people. What is unfortunate about this is that the majority of ghettos, especially in this area, are populated by black people; the fact is that one can walk around this side of High Point and find plenty of places to get a cash advance or get a paycheck cashed, but for some reason there are no banks, backing what the reverend originally said about the American capitalist machine, “Have a car, a nice house, and clothes, to be a happy person.” But it isn’t blacks that are oppressed; we’re all oppressed. Caroline said, “It’s about money and power, not skin color;” that we are each subject to the same value system regardless of our race. “I was disappointed in the lack of concentration in human rights problems instead of black communal problems,” Caroline said. Oppression is a method of control, but oppression is weak and dependent on the ignorance of the people. She put forth that subjugation of people has existed for thousands of years for thousands of reasons; while racism exists in America, the real discrimination is based in capital and the display of that capital.
Reverend Williams’ story about Peter in Antioch was too right. Everyone has missed the message of Martin Luther King. We have gone from one phase in our society to the next, changing our priorities accordingly, and adjusting our discrepancies as a result; there will always be problems with oppression, racial or otherwise, but complaining will not change the situation and is in fact exactly what the upper echelons of the society wish for people to do as it allows them to easier ignore the problems. The problem may exist, but if no one does anything about it, then it doesn’t have any impact until the people change themselves, in doing so also changing society, where conditions will change but oppression will continue to exist, and grievances adjusted accordingly.
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