I have previously speculated about how the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have felt about the current state of Washington, D.C. King was a doer and not just a dreamer. He insisted on being effective, and his work led directly to the passage of two major civil rights bills and other legislation.
The conclusion? King likely would have been disappointed in today's Washington, which is full of self-serving politicians who are more concerned with political scoring than finding logical commonsense solutions to cure America’s ailing economy. There was once a time when members of Congress partnered freely with their colleagues, whether Republican or Democratic, to accomplish common goals.
The U.S. held its second inauguration of its first black president this week. It is uncanny how closely the day fell to the Israeli election date, especially considering the crucial decisions that Washington will need to make over the next few weeks on President Barack Obama's selections of former Senator Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and Senator John Kerry for secretary of state. The choices for both positions will speak volumes to Israel and other countries about the U.S.'s posture toward the Middle East and particularly toward Israel, which most Americans still consider the haven of democracy in the Middle East. As I cited in Part I, King was an open advocate for the people of Israel while many of Obama’s detractors — including many Israelis — often question the president’s positions and attitude toward Israel.
Americans continue to ask the same questions that they have been asking themselves ever since Dr. King's death: How would King feel about the state of the black community today? How would he feel about the plight of poor people — regardless of racial or ethnic background? King was a tireless advocate for the rights of the poor. During his lifetime, many people deemed "poor" were from the minority groups, but there were also many poor whites who benefitted from and supported King's work.
Most Americans today, when asked about the causes of financial hardships and poverty, would not answer that the problem is a lack of social justice. Rather, they would say it is because of economic decline. This is why, according to Gallup, Congress has an appalling 14 percent approval rating.
Americans tend to blame a lot on Congress. While much of this is justified, I'd like to ask them also to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
It is pathetic that Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling for only three more months, setting up yet another showdown of nonsensical partisan fighting while the future of the country's economy hangs in the balance. To his credit, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor claimed a few days ago: "If the Senate or House fails to pass a budget in that time, members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job. No budget, no pay."
That's right: Congress will not be paid until they develop a working budget for the country and real solutions to the debt crises.
Maybe congressional leaders are finally starting to act like grown-ups but what about the rest of us?
Studies all over the world show a direct link between poverty and the lack of a two-parent home for families. The number of children born out of wedlock is on the rise in the United States, but more pointedly, over 70% of children born in black homes are born to unwed mothers.
Fatherhood.gov is an initiative begun by Obama in his first term. It asks volunteers to pledge to mentor or provide resources for fathers. This week, Regina Chamberlain, a spokesperson for Fatherhood.gov, told The Christian Post: "Men have to be present in the home. Otherwise, there's a different effect on the child."
To his credit, Obama has made it a higher priority than other U.S. presidents to address the absence of fathers in many underprivileged communities. But at some point, shouldn't Americans take on this responsibility for themselves?
Particularly addressing the black community, I want us to ask ourselves: When are we going to wake up? We can no longer blame a lack of social justice on our problems. True, our elected officials should do a better job of providing employers with an economic environment conducive to hiring more people so that unemployment can be reduced. But our own personal decisions affect us so much more than the government's decisions.
Many black Americans watched with pride as the first black president's election was reaffirmed by his re-election. Some watched again with that same pride as he was inaugurated yesterday on the bibles of both former president and slave emancipator Abraham Lincoln and civil rights movement leader King. But all of this symbolism means nothing if we don't take more responsibility for our own lives.
America's economy may be in the tank, but no one is forcing black men to continue making babies and leaving mothers to handle the burdens on their own.
No one is forcing young black people to quit high school or to finish high school with no goals of attending a trade school, community college, or university.
At some point, it is time for black America to realize the great opportunity we have in the United States. No matter what your financial, racial, or ethnic background may be, you have the chance to rise out of those situations and become successful.
Many black Americans have indeed done this, but not nearly enough. We have to condemn the denigration of women and graphic violence in much of our music and remove the glorification of ignorance from much of the black pop culture that is so prevalent in our communities, and wake up to see that a black president was just elected — twice.
I didn't vote for Obama either time, but the silver lining for me is that minorities throughout the U.S. can look to the twice-elected black American and know that anything is possible. There are no more ultimate barriers because of the color of your skin. There are obstacles, and there will always be racism, but racism does not have the last word in America. Personal decisions and personal responsibility hold much more weight and have far longer lasting effects on your life.
And so, in the words of King, himself: "A man can't ride your back unless it's bent." And again: "If you can't fly then run; if you can't run then walk; if you can't walk then crawl; but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."
Princella D. Smith is an American freelance contributor for Israel Hayom. She was a communications staffer to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and has also served as a communications director on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. She is currently a graduate student at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel.