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Living beyond the dream

Ewuare X. Osayande

Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision was more than just a dream—it was a call to action, said Ewuare X. Osayande Wednesday during his lecture, titled “Confronting American Terrorism: The Movement for Racial Justice 40 Years After King.”

“King was no dreamer. King was a doer. King was a challenger. He was probably the only true prophet this nation has ever developed. He spoke truth to power. It was for that reason that he was assassinated. No other,” Osayande said. “If we are going to be true to King’s dream, then we have to take seriously King’s analysis. That’s all I’m attempting to do right here. America doesn’t kill dreamers.”

The political activist, author, cultural critic, poet, essayist and publisher addressed a crowded classroom in Maginnes Hall. He was introduced by Yaba Blay, academic director of the Joint Multicultural Program and affiliate faculty member in Africana Studies Africana Studies and Women’s Studies.

“You’re in for a treat,” Blay said. “Ewuare is one of the most dynamic speakers I’ve heard in many years.”

On Thursday, Osayande also facilitated two workshops: one in the afternoon for faculty and staff and a second session in the evning for students. Both events are part of a week and a half of activities commemorating the life and dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

During his Wednesday lecture, Osayande quoted heavily from King’s April 4, 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” Osayande called his audience to follow King’s lead by continuing to eradicate racism—a racism that he said exists even in a country considering nominating an African-American man for president.

“A white person’s willingness to vote for a person who’s not white says more about that person’s particular racism than it does about the whole,” he said. “Racism is greater than an individual or group of people’s beliefs. It is an institution.

“Despite all apparent progress, we are, in fact, witnessing the erosion of civil rights for black and brown people in this nation.”

A nation divided

As both reasons for and evidence of racism, Osayande pointed to the American school, economic and prison systems.

Although the 1954 Supreme Court decision ruled that no school could be officially labeled “whites only,” Osayande argued that education in American remains segregated.

“In this nation, the promise of education has been kept at arms length for many African-American and Latino children, especially with those living in rural and urban areas,” he said. “We continue to wait for the promise of integration to be realized.

“America remains a divided nation, and the fault line remains the color line.”

Primarily minority-based schools that fail do not do so because the children lack the desire to succeed, but because they lack the means to succeed, Osayande said.

“Our children fail to achieve not because of a lack of parental involvement, but because of a lack of books, computers and other adequate resources. It’s not because of disinterested or lazy students who fail to pass culturally biased exams, but disinterested and lazy legislators who fail to pass laws that would redistribute supplies,” he said. “We don’t need more finger pointing—what we need is equal funding.”

The nation should either provide a means for less-privileged children to attend wealthier, suburban schools or should ensure that all schools receive equal money, Osayande said.

“How is a child to compete if they sit in a classroom where they are lucky to have an up-to-date textbook when they compete with a child who sits in a classroom with a computer at his or her desk? It is the Stone Age against the Information Age,” he said.

“The result is a nation as divided as ever—the haves and the have nots—where the majority of this nation remain white, and the majority of the poor remain not white,” he said.

“This economic system was not set up to eliminate poverty”

The negative effect of the education system is reinforced by the economic system, which withholds prosperity and hope to many poor Americans, Osayande said.

“King understood that this economic system was not set up to eliminate poverty, quite the contrary. In fact, it functions to produce poverty,” Osayande said. “The waste produced by the pursuit of profit is the ever-perpetual problem of the poor of this nation. Rather than eliminate or reduce this waste, America has chosen to throw the valueless away.”

However, to eliminate or reduce poverty, America’s capitalistic system does not have to be overthrown entirely, Osayande said during the question and answer session.

“We don’t have to change the system to address what ails the system,” he said, suggesting that the money used for the war in Iraq could be spent on government programs that provide jobs for the poor.

America’s solution to poverty is prison, he said. Today’s prisons “serve as the new plantations,” he said. “The owners reap the profits of the exploited poor who are paid less than their labor is worth, i.e. slave wages.”

Osayande charged his audience to work toward eradicating racism. “We’re the dreamers, believing that our country is further along the path than we are,” he said. “Can we get beyond tolerance to actually appreciating each other?”

“We live in a society that is still racist”

Blay said Osayande was invited to speak in order to challenge the perspective of students of all colors.

“I thought it would be necessary to have this type of event when we talk about Dr. King rather than a kumbaya approach,” she said.

Osayande’s lecture reminded Blay that the racial disparities exist not only in elementary and middle schools, but throughout the system.

“I’m appreciative of the direction Ewuare took in terms of describing the educational experience that affects the college experience,” she said. As a result, white Americans are “robbed” of the opportunity to learn from students of different races and nationalities, she said.

Daniel Bahner ’09, a classical civilization major, found Osayande’s presentation insightful and enjoyable.

"I agree that people don’t really know the impact that privilege can have,” Bahner said. “(Osayande’s lecture) reinforces a lot of things that I believe and what I have been taught.

“We live in a society that is still racist—not as overtly, but more subtly.”

--Becky Straw

Posted on Thursday, January 24, 2008

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