There’s a growing conflict between rich and poor in America. A poll this month from the Pew Research Center finds that about two thirds of the public — that’s 66 percent — believe there are very strong or strong conflicts between the rich and the poor. That’s up 19 points since 2009. When you break that down — that increase, if you will, Black folks believe there are conflicts between rich and poor. That increased by 8 percent, but for White Americans, the increase was 22 percent. This conflict over “income inequality,” as the Democrats call it, or “class warfare,” as the Republicans see is, is already a major theme of the 2012 election.
This battle has been going on in America for years, and one of the foremost generals in that war was a man we honor this month, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet, why have we chosen to portray Dr. Kling as a soft, gentle, go-along-to-get-along civil rights leader, as opposed to the radical force for change?
Syracuse University professor Boyce Watkins — he reminded us this week that Dr. King was way more than just the man of peace we remember. He was a[n] uncompromising warrior for economic justice.
Dr. Boyce Watkins joined Roland Martin on Washington watch to discuss the conflict over income inequality and Dr. King being a radical force for change.
MR. MARTIN: There’s a lot of political news this week, and there will be for most of the next ten months. We’ll talk about it in our roundtable a bit later, but it’s important to look at the state of the nation in which the politics are practiced. This week, a group of mayors met with the President and other administration officials to express their view of just what’s going on in the cities. After the meetings, they spoke to reporters at the White House.
LOS ANGELES, CA MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Eighty-five percent of the jobs that will be created in the coming year will be created in our cities.
PHILADELPHIA, PA MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER: It’s about supporting funding in cities for infrastructure renewal. It’s about job training. It’s about making sure that our young people are excelling in secondary and postsecondary education opportunities.
SOUTHFIELD, MI MAYOR BRENDA LAWRENCE: The health of our country is measured by our cities.
BALTIMORE, MD MAYOR STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE: [In] Baltimore, we’ve seen a lot of success with putting young people to work, creating positive pathways for them to provide for them – provide for their families and to create careers.
NEW ORLEANS, LA MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: I’m really proud to be standing here with the mayors, because every time I meet with them, we remind each other that we do not live in the theoretical world of tomorrow. We live in the real word of today. And I remind everybody about the term “the fierce urgency of now” and that we really cannot wait.
CHARLOTTE, NC MAYOR ANTHONY FOXX: We come from cities where we see every day the impacts of unemployment – the lines at the soup kitchen, the numbers of people who are homeless, the lack of hope that so many of our citizens have. And the point I would like to make is that the President’s been going around the country, saying, “We can’t wait,” and we’re here as mayors saying, “We can’t wait either.”
DENVER, CO MAYOR MICHAEL HANCOCK:You don’t get much closer to the American people than the mayors of these great cities that make up this great country, and we see every day – we look in the eyes of despair, and we look in the eyes of – of children and adults who’re saying, “We need help…”
[END OF VIDEO.]
MR. MARTIN: Against the backdrop of cities and the – their people needing help, there’s a growing conflict between rich and poor in America. A poll this month from the Pew Research Center finds that about two thirds of the public – that’s 66 percent – believe there are very strong or strong conflicts between the rich and the poor. That’s up 19 points since 2009. When you break that down – that increase, if you will, Black folks believe there are conflicts between rich and poor. That increased by 8 percent, but for White Americans, the increase was 22 percent. This conflict over “income inequality,” as the Democrats call it, or “class warfare,” as the Republicans see is, is already a major theme of the 2012 election.
Well, this battle has been going on in America for years, and one of the mo- — foremost generals in that war was a man we honor this month, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet, why have we chosen to portray Dr. Kling as a soft, gentle, go-along-to-get-along civil rights leader, as opposed to the radical force for change? Syracuse University professor Boyce Watkins – he reminded us this week that Dr. King was way more than just the man of peace we remember. He was a[n] uncompromising warrior for economic justice.
And Boyce joins us right now from Syracuse University.
And, Boyce, welcome back to “Washington Watch.”
MR. MARTIN: Now, I –
DR. BOYCE WATKINS: Thank you for having me –
MR. MARTIN: — I – I –
DR. WATKINS: — Roland. I’m glad –
MR. MARTIN: — love your piece –
DR. WATKINS: — to be here.
MR. MARTIN: — because this was one of the things that I talked about in my speech when I spoke to Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland – that I think we continue to make a mistake by trying to portray Dr. King as somebody who just wanted all of us to hold hands, when he was talking about the very issues of income inequality, talking about the gaps between the rich and the poor then, in 1963 – even at the time of his death – that we’re discussing right now.
DR. WATKINS: A- — absolutely. I think that, unfortunately, we – we kill Dr. King a little bit more every year. There are people who have no problem celebrating him and his legacy as long as he and his legacy remain firmly in the grave. The reality is that you should be able to tell – just like w- — with – with – with Christianity, you should be able to tell a man’s faith by how he lives, not what he markets to you. Well, i- — if you look at our country, and you look at how we live, does that in any way connect to the legacy of Dr. King? You look around the country, [and] 40 percent of all Black children are in poverty. The last 25 years, the richest 20 percent of Americans have hoarded 96 percent of the wealth. We’re going around the world, declaring wealth on other countries just to get their oil. The median net – net worth of a Black woman in America is $5. You can keep going down the list.
So, the fact is that there’s almost nothing you could say about America and the way we def- — define our policies –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
DR. WATKINS: — and the way we treat each other that says that we have any respect for Dr. King.
MR. MARTIN: You know, I thought it was interesting this week – and I thought it was totally ignorant – to see Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, a Republican, say that – that Gov. Rick Scott was in the mold – he actually embodied the values and the vision of Dr. King by appoi- — by choosing her to be his running mate, because it was about the content of her character – not the color of her skin. And I’m saying, “Wow.” Just that one line somehow defined everything Ku- — King stood for.
And so you see this all the time. And so how do we get folks, though, to understand that we’ve got to go beyond the speeches of King, go beyond the videos or the film of the marches and understand that if we’re not confronting the issue of education and not confronting what is happening income-wise, we’re absolutely failing, and all that we’re doing [is] putting on great programs that do nothing to change people and motivate and move them to act?
DR. WATKINS: Well, we[’ve] got to remember a lot of people have made Dr. King into this cute, little caricature. He’s – he’s – he’s nothing more than a McDonald’s commercial in the eyes of some people. I think that what we have to do as a community is make a progressive effort to bring Dr. King back to life. That means we have to understand that there was a reason why he was unpopular on the day that he died. It was because he took a stand – a relentless stand – on an issue that people didn’t agree with. He was a little bit of a troublemaker when he had to make trouble in order to do what was right.
So, when you hear people give these little – the- — these nice, polite, little speeches and say, “Oh, Dr. King believed that everyone should hold hands and ‘we shall overcome’ and we should all get along,” we[’ve] got to realize that there’s another side of Dr. King that says you have to fight for what is right. And I hate breaking this news to people, but the fact is that Dr. King is gone. He’s not coming back. He left – he ran a really tough leg of – of that first leg –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
DR. WATKINS: — of the relay race. He handed the baton to us, and we threw that baton in the grass and didn’t continue the race. We[’ve] –
MR. MARTIN: Few –
DR. WATKINS: — got to pick it back up and keep it moving.
MR. MARTIN: — [a] few seconds left. On Tuesday, the President will give his State of the Union address. I criticized him last year for no mention of the poor in that particular speech. I do believe that after Occupy Wall Street, I will not – I will be shocked, Boyce, if we don’t hear a significant portion of that speech deal with income ine- — inequality, deal with the poor, deal with those who have been impoverished as a result of this tough ec- — economy.
Do you expect to hear the exact, same thing on Tuesday?
DR. WATKINS: I – I expect him to hit that issue. Occupy Wall Street opened that door. Also, we have to remember last year, Pres. Obama was the first Democratic President since Harry S. Truman not to mention poverty in the State of the Union address. I hope he doesn’t make that mistake again this year. That would be tragic.
MR. MARTIN: All right. Boyce, always a pleasure, and [I] look forward to having you back in the studio. Thanks a bunch.
DR. WATKINS: Thank you for having me.