Adair: Civil rights, MLK ... that's old news

Jeff Adair

A new day is coming. America has buried its racist's past. Martin Luther King's dream "that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" has arrived.

Yeah! Let's throw a party.

And so we've been told since Barack Obama's victory in Iowa. The enthusiasm tempered a little bit after his second place showing in New Hampshire. Just a wee bit. Many still see him as the great non-white hope.

"Tonight Barack Obama has made it more true that every black child in America can do whatever they want to if they work hard for it - really," said one Democratic strategist after his Iowa victory.

Obama "has taught the black community you don't have to act like Jesse Jackson, you don't have to act like Al Sharpton," former drug czar and education secretary Bill Bennett told us a day after the caucus.

Not so fast folks.

I'll give him credit. I give us kudos. We as a nation have made strides in terms of race relations. Lately, however, it seems our method of operation is to avoid talking about racial disparities, getting twisted about the trivial, or using single examples to show we've arrived.

What Imus said about the Rutgers women's basketball team, or what Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman said about Tiger Woods is not the issue.

The double standard in which rappers can freely use the N-word, but the black community gets outraged when a white person does, is not the issue.

The accomplishments, black firsts this decade, like Tony Dungy, Colin Powell, Halle Berry, Ruth Simmons, or Oprah - the first black woman billionaire, is not the issue.

As a government and as a people, the question we must ask is: Are we doing enough to close the gaps between black and whites in terms of mortality rates, high school graduation rates, crime rates, and so on?

We can start with our children since it makes more sense to spend minimal dollars to prevent a problem than maximum dollars to correct it afterward.

(As an aside, I noticed in a press release this week from Gov. Patrick that Massachusetts spends $43,000 per year to incarcerate an individual. Per pupil spending is public schools is what? Maybe around $10,000 in the best funded districts.)

The issue is that child born to a crack addicted mother and absentee father, that child surrounded by poverty attending run down, underfinanced schools.

He or she may be white, may be black, Chinese or an immigrant from a Latin American country.

Does that child have the same opportunity to succeed, opportunity being the key word here, as someone born to wealth, someone exposed early to academics, exposed to the finest things in life?

Of course, parents must play a major role. Bill Cosby was right in saying that some parents in the black community aren't doing their job. But society, and government - many don't want to hear that - must also play a role, to help that child born in the wrong ZIP code.

This week, leading up to the MLK holiday next Monday, the candidates will praise one of our nation's greatest leaders, talk about how far we've come, and touch on the aforementioned concerns.

Clinton will probably adopt the cadence of a black preacher to show her street cred. Edwards will focus on his two-Americans theme. On the Republican side, Romney will probably remind voters that his father, George Romney, marched (figuratively of course) with King. Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, will probably note that his religious beliefs are the same as King's.

For one day, the candidates might even talk about the touchy subjects of race, class and economic disparity.

One day, and then, forget about it.

That's because they all know to talk about such is not a winning strategy. America only wants to hear good news. We want to praise ourselves for considering a black man for the nation's highest office. We don't want to hear about inequality, or any of that kind of stuff.

"Come on, please. That's old news," we say. "We've arrived."

Jeff Adair is a MetroWest Daily News writer and editor. He can be reached at