It’s Not All White People’s Fault

The 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington organized by labor leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin that featured the “I Have a Dream” speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a time for reflection on progress that was or was not made, a time to assess the effectiveness of the ideas and strategies employed in the effort to realize Dr. King’s dream, and a time to recommit ourselves to the fulfillment of that dream.  As I listened to the many speeches made at the Lincoln Memorial, I heard a number of references to the lack of progress and the many impediments to progress.  There was a lot of blame, but I was not clear about who was being blamed for the lack of progress.

Many black people believe their progress has been short-circuited by a “white power structure”.  True there have been many powerful white men who have thwarted progress by refusing to hire black people, by redlining black communities, and by overseeing a corrupt criminal justice system. Yet, in my mind, I envisioned if Dr. King was alive today, he would remind black Americans that all of our troubles are not the fault of white folks.  I believe he would be quick to acknowledge that America has not dealt sufficiently with its racist past and because of that failure we have the unequal playing field of the present.  Yet, I believe Dr. King would want black people to stop focusing so much on black problems and broaden the fight for social justice.

Of course, I cannot speak for Dr. King, but I believe he would tell black people we need to figure out how to graduate more poor children, how to reduce the violence that plague our neighborhoods, and how to heal broken relationships that cause so many young black kids to be born into poor single-female headed households.  This is not a Bill Cosby moment.  Dr. King would not put the blame solely on black people for these shortcomings.  But he would challenge us to find a way to solve these problems with the help of government and with the cooperation of people of good will from all walks of life.  He would do this while celebrating the progress black people have made through the years because of the sacrifices and leadership of so many great Americans like Rep. John Lewis.

Fifty years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we know that economic inequality threatens the future for too many Americans of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.  We should know that there are no solutions to black problems independent of the problems that many non-black Americans are dealing with today.  However, I believe because of black people’s experience in America, we have a unique perspective on social problems just as I believe social workers—because of our training—have a unique approach to social policy.

We need more researchers and policy analysts of color developing and aggressively pursuing policy solutions to the problems confronting millions of Americans who are disproportionately black and Latino.  We need to be clear about the desired outcomes and the policies needed to achieve those outcomes.  There are some that are obvious such as having an unrestricted right to vote and an unbiased criminal justice system.  Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech addressing mandatory minimums has set the table for making significant policy change.

What about educating poor children?  I think much more can be done to improve the educational outcomes of poor children.  Most poor children rely on public education.  I would like to see more policy initiatives from the black community on how to realize higher graduation rates.  I would like to see more private investment from the black community.  There is no reason why Marva Collins, David C. Banks and Geoffrey Canada should not have all the resources they need to develop a comprehensive plan to increase graduation rates for black and poor students.  And, should that plan emerge, I am sure the Gates Foundation and others will get behind it.

President Barack Obama has received criticism for publicly admonishing black people for our shortcomings and some of that criticism is understandable because of the events he chose to do this.  However, I believe black people can do more to improve our lot and those of others.  We can develop policy ideas that would alter the status quo and we can sell them to the public if not the Congress.  It is not all white people’s fault that Dr. King’s dream has not been realized.  The sooner we focus on that, the better off we will be.

Written by Dr. Charles E. Lewis Jr.
President of The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy

Twitter: @CharlesELewisJr.

This post was originally published @ It’s Not All White People’s Fault and has been syndicated with permission of the author. For more from Charles and to learn about The Congressional Research Institute of Social Work and Policy visit

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