By: John Burbank
My sister-in-law retired from the Auburn University Library in Alabama this past Friday and we travelled there to celebrate. Despite the beautiful weather, I can tell you is was not “Sweet Home Alabama.” On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I saw that white racism, mixed with fundamentalist Christianity, remains embedded and powerful in Alabama. How, after all, could Roy Moore, a known sexual predator who speaks fondly of slavery, receive over 48 percent of the vote for U.S. senator last December?
White supremacy and odes to the lost cause of the Confederacy remain powerful in the state of Alabama. The statue in front of the state capitol depicts Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America.
It is also found in Tuskegee, home of Tuskegee University, a historically black college begun just as Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan were gathering power. Tuskegee is over 95 percent black, yet its town square is overshadowed by a statue of a Confederate States of America soldier.
It’s also seen in the abundance of private K-12 schools founded after 1954, specifically to enable white parents avoid integrated schools when desegregation became the law of the land.
On this day, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., we should also take a look at ourselves in the “progressive” city of Seattle. Seattle’s past and present are similarly laden with evidence of inequality and racism.
Black people are being pushed out of neighborhoods they have called home for decades due to the cost-of-living increases brought by predominantly white high-earning tech professionals. A memorial in Seattle’s International District stands as a stark reminder of the city’s internment of more than 7,000 Japanese Americans. Only 48 years ago, Magnolia’s Discovery Park was violently reclaimed from Native American occupation. Current data on education, income, health, and housing show the ongoing impact of our local and national history.
We even have our own Confederate memorials.
Our education system is one of our most outright examples of ongoing discrimination. Alabama’s private school segregation is also happening in Seattle, in its own way, with over 25 percent of kids in private schools, delineated by the codes of privilege, power, money, and, race.
In 2000, a group of privileged white parents in Magnolia sued the Seattle Public Schools to end the racial tie-breaker system. That case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and was the basis for that Court to allow re-segregation in schools all over the country. The result is that our public schools are resegregated, and Seattle private schools are islands of privilege, serving the affluent, keeping their kids insulated from working class kids and kids in poverty. It is no wonder that Lakeside is planning a new campus near Seattle Center to serve the kids of the high tech elite of South Lake Union.
White privilege and dominance is not monopolized by the South, or only found in Alabama. We see it every day in our own city and state. The rhetoric of Jim Crow is history. But the reality of white privilege and second-class citizenship for other groups is pinned to our culture, our economics, and our politics.