by Alex Mikulich
White Americans are faced with a historic opportunity. Recognizing the significance of the moment, President-elect Obama told the story of Ann Nixon Cooper, who at the age of 106 voted for him, and who was born "just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons: because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin." He concluded his election-night speech by asking: "If my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?"
These questions spark my memory of growing up in Michigan, and how my family observed the Detroit fires after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the safety of a white suburb. We did not recognize that we were the people about whom King spoke in his last book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" when he wrote that white people "have failed to educate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of the sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn."
I find that Dr. King's words endure, having worked in five U.S. cities over the past 20 years. I have consistently heard and seen people of color address inequality cogently and creatively. This is evident most recently at the University of New Orleans, where Marian Wright Edelman's Children's Defense Fund sponsored the "Cradle to Prison Pipeline Initiative," an effort to call attention to social problems that funnel predominantly minority youth toward arrest and incarceration.
Yet I have never seen white people as a group admit that these are injustices that we white people ought to address collectively as a basic matter of our humanity and citizenship....
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